The novel, Dog-heart, tells the story of an unlikely relationship that develops between Sahara, an educated middle class Jamaican woman, and Dexter, a boy from a ghetto who helps support his family through begging. The book alternates Sahara’s voice as narrator and Dexter’s local patois voice, and follows the complexities that unravel with Sahara’s desire to help and ultimately lead to tragedy.
Dog-heart’s author, Diana McCaulay, was born and raised in Jamaica. She’s not only a writer but also CEO of an environmental advocacy organization and a filmmaker. I recently interviewed Diana about her film, Jamaica for Sale, a documentary that examines the environmental, social and economic damage large-scale hotel development inflicts on its community. Her novel, Dog-heart, was released in 2010. Diana is a sort-of hero to me, my interests strongly mimic hers, so I was thrilled to discuss with her Dog-heart.
Do you liken yourself to Sahara in Dog-heart? Was there a boy you wanted to help?
There are some aspects of Sahara’s life and character that are similar to mine – I do have one son, but I cannot add! So there is a lot that is different too. Yes, there was a family of boys that I tried to help in the 1990s, but having said that, Dog-heart is fiction – I made it all up. Fiction, though, often has its roots in real events, events that cause us to ask: What if? What if a woman tried to help a boy? What kind of relationship would they have? Would it work? Dog-heart actually had its beginnings in an exercise in a writers’ workshop, where we were asked to write a short piece from the point of view of someone who was a different race, class, age, sex, social and economic background to ourselves. The piece I wrote became chapter two of Dog-Heart.
Has your experience as an activist and filmmaker brought insight on how to bridge the gaps between races and the haves and the have-nots?
I have no solutions. I am not a sociologist or a psychologist or a development expert. But I do think if there is one gift we could give each other it would be this – we should listen to each other, we should try to imagine each other’s lives and circumstances, we should try to reach out across the barriers that separate us.
I’m curious as to your peers’ perception of Dog-heart. What has been your community’s reaction to the book?
Well, mostly folks don’t come up to you and say “I hated your book.” So the people who have spoken to me have been very positive – many have said that Dog-heart changed the way they regarded children on the streets. So that was good to hear.
What would you say to those who want to help others less fortunate?
Be respectful. You don’t have the answers. Don’t prescribe. Listen. Don’t foster dependency; seek rather to empower.
Your education and life/work experience lend themselves to your position as an executive in environmental advocacy. How did you make the transition to writing fiction?
I have wanted to write novels since I was very young and it has taken me a long time to do it, mostly due to fear of failure and the possibility of ridicule, so I will never forget 2010 – the year my first novel was published. I have a second one finished and that is now just beginning its publication journey.
How exciting! What can you tell us about your new book?
The new book is called Huracan, and is a story of three white Jamaicans, told 100 years apart – an eventual abolitionist (1780s), a missionary (1880s) and a modern Jamaican returning home (1980s). It is loosely based on my own family history and explores the reasons why people came to Jamaica, why they stayed, and the effects of our history on the present.
Best wishes to Diana for swift publication of Huracan. I’ll be awaiting eagerly.
What about you? Do you mind a book that delves into sensitive topics?
You might also like: