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Dawes’ story about Kofi and Keisha, lovers yet strangers, engages and echoes in your mind just like a good novel should. Kofi is a Jamaican reggae musician with mental health issues, and Keisha is a social researcher from the American south with her own emotional baggage to boot. Keisha decides, on a whim, to follow her new lover to Jamaica and much heartbreak predictably ensues. What makes this debut novel a good read is the universality of its treatment of the complexity of male-female relationships, to which most of us can probably relate, and how it is set in a context full of complexly drawn characters and richly painted locales. Dawes descriptions of Jamaica are sometimes hypnotic, and when the author is at his best as you feel transported to a world that is full of sensuous impressions and so much more complexity and stratification than most outsiders would ever now. While Dawes’ descriptions are poetic and at times breathtakingly beautiful, the dialogue and character development are lacking in part. Kofi appears a more developed character than does Keisha, who remains elusive and somewhat flat; her past experiences are only glimpsed at and her personality never comes off the page enough so that we fully grasp why she means so much to Kofi. Dawes actually manages to make Keisha’s cousin Leonora a more developed and likeable character than he does Keisha. Jamaica is also much more richly drawn than is South Carolina and New York, or Toronto for that matter (making a cameo appearance near the end). However, Dawes’ writing is intelligent enough to get under your skin, and keeps you wanting more. (Tove Malmquist)

by Kwame Dawes, $15.95, 350 pgs, Akashic Books, PO Box 1456, New York, NY 10009,

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