Time Reading Program: A High Wind in Jamaica

Cover by Ilonka Karasz

This Time Reading Edition of A High Wind in Jamaica contains a new, in 1963, introduction by the author. Robert Hughes writes that he was inspired to write the novel after reading a few pages of a letter from an old Victorian woman describing a remarkable childhood experience on a sea voyage from the West Indies to England. The woman, then a girl, and her siblings were sent on the voyage without an adult chaperone. Instead, they were left under the care of the captain. But what do sea captains know about caring for kids? At some point on the voyage, the ship was overtaken by pirates. While the captain of their ship was persuaded to turn over all his valuable cargo, the children were sent on board the pirate ship where they were treated to a marvelous party. The party was so wonderful, the old woman wrote, that they did not want to go back to their ship and resume their voyage to England. But, of course, they did.

Hughes was a young man at the time he read the letter and thought: what if the pirates had kept the children and sailed away with them? So he wrote A High Wind in Jamaica.

The children in Hughes’ version are completely misunderstood by all the adults, although perhaps slightly less so by the pirates. The children, being children (and all between the ages of 3 and 11), also don’t understand the adults motives or feelings. But we the reader understand both. The children are left to run completely wild by the pirates (as did their parents even before they sent them, unchaperoned, on a long sea voyage). The adults seem neglectful and sometimes nefarious. There are even suggestions of sexual inappropriateness from the pirates toward some of the girls. It’s disturbing. And while the children don’t understand why it’s disturbing or that they are neglected, they almost entirely disregard the importance or authority of adults because they know the adults certainly don’t understand them.

It’s a strange, but imaginative tale. The children often seem downright feral and many parts of the story are almost dreamlike and visceral. Some critics have compared it to Lord of the Flies and found it more compelling. Although it’s been may years since I read Lord of the Flies, I’d agree with that.

The cover art on the TRP beauty is by Ilonka Karasz, a prolific illustrator. She is known for her many New Yorker covers and for her work as an industrial designer. This is one of my favorite TRP covers, and one of the first to catch my eye and start my collection.

A High Wind in Jamaica, copyright 1929
Reprint 1963, Time Incorporated