The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica

The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica

Winner: Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize 2010 and the Dolman Travel Prize 2010.

Jamaica used to be the source of much of Britain’s wealth: it was a tropical paradise for the planters and a Babylonian exile for the slaves cultivating the sugar. Since independence in 1962, the life of the West Indian island has become overshadowed by gang warfare and drug crime. Ian Thomson spent two years waling the streets, riding the buses and talking to a huge cross-section of Jamaicans. His account is filled with both the beauty and tragedy of modern Jamaican life.


“Ian Thomson has captured the tension, the politics, the heat the chaos, the beauty and the music of Jamaica. That’s difficult to do, but in my opinion he did it because he got down with the people, he took risks…”

Benjamin Zephaniah

“Ian Thomson’s excellent book… is filled with many sympathetic and well-transcribed examples… It goes beyond the oft-recited dysfunctionalities to provide their essential historical context, and his literary sensibility matches the strange beauty of the place…”

Zadie Smith, Harper’s.

“Through his encounters with gunmen and government officials, musicians and missionaries, Ian Thomson meticulously builds a genuinely insightful picture of how the island has evolved”

Andrea Stuart, Independent.

“Exhilarating… Thomson catapults himself into the heart and soul of Jamaica… a fascinating account of a beautiful, treacherous country”

Amanda Smyth, Irish Times.

“One of the best travel books of the past few years. Ian Thomson’s   sombre narrative is an unsparing evocation of an island often closer to hell than paradise”

Harry Eyres, Financial Times.

“Ian Thomson, an extremely witty writer, delivers a fastidiously researched history and travelogue interspersed with penetrating interviews with Jamaicans from all levels of society.”

Mary Killen, Literary Review.

“Ian Thomson’s talent for butterfly-netting exotic specimens, and fixing them with limpid prose, invites comparison with the late grand master of the travelogue, Norman Lewis… agreeably dry and stimulating… goes to the head like a second can of Red Stripe at the Notting Hill Carnival”

Stephen Smith, London Evening Standard.

“Jamaica today does not know whether to laugh or cry; and Ian Thomson addresses this dilemma with depth and brio… Often too with delight, as his ever observant eyes and ears pick up – with joyful-for-us-results – the culture, colour and customs of the country… a terrific book”

Lucinda Lambton, Spectator.

“Ian Thomson is an author of great range and sensibility – he has previously written on both Haiti and Primo Levi – and here he brings his sharp eye and smart prose to bear on a phenomenon as perplexing as it is worrying”

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian.

“The Dead Yard is an awesome rendering of oral history and raw social exposure. Ian Thomson strips Jamaica bare, and takes the island to the cleaners. An amazing performance”

George Lamming

“The author gives us a detailed picture of the tragedy of this Caribbean island. Both anecdote and evidence are skillfully combined… Interwoven with these are fascinating reflections on the cultural scene and descriptions of the twin trades of slavery and sugar.”

Morning Star

“Ian Thomson is a fine and tough-minded guide to the ‘corrupted Eden’ that is Jamaica”

Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times.

“A magnificent achievement”

Mary Hannah, Jamaica Observer.