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The Hills Were Joyful Together

The Hills Were Joyful Together by Roger Mais

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By Roger Mais

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For the poor and black in this starkly brutal novel little has changed since slavery. Surjue, like others in his Kingston yard, is struggling for survival when he is persuaded to take part in a robbery. He is arrested, tried and sentenced to the brutal world of a Jamaican colonial prison, though imprisonment describes life both inside and outside jail.

First published in 1953 and set during the Second World War, Mais’s novel catches Jamaica at a point of change as country people flock into Kingston, but few find new beginnings. There are visions of modernity brought by the Hollywood noir movies that offer destructive role models for some of the novel’s characters, but film also provides Mais with an effective model for his narrative with its powerful mise-en-scene of yard life and the rapid intercutting between episodes that generates tension and excitement. Above all, at a time when the actual homicide rate in Jamaica was very low, Mais writes prophetically about a propensity for violence deeply embedded in the country’s history, a violence both of the state and those who refuse to accept their poverty and marginalisation. In this respect, The Hills Were Joyful Together powerfully anticipates Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings.

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