The lilt of Jamaica

The Sting of the Bee, by Seth Rolbein. St Martin's Press: A John Kahn Book. 264 pp. $16. It is one thing to visit Jamaica, it is another to become part of the lilt and cadence of the walk and talk of its people. In Seth Rolbein's first novel, ``The Sting of the Bee,'' a man becomes a boy, becomes a hero, becomes a part of all that he might have been had his childhood with its pains of separation been different.

We first meet the man, Martinson Sanders, who left Jamaica as a boy of 13. In those days, he had trees good for climbing, days good for dreaming, and a mother good for stifling adventure. Now, he is a man of 26 with a future. He has a career, a romance, the same mother.

He is called back to the island on family business. His estranged father is dying. Marty returns to an uncertain place in his memory for an unspecified period of time.

Over the years, both his body and his ego have become bloated, either from lack of exercise or lack of interest; they are cumbersome, unmanageable in this uncompromising yet forgiving place he has come to regard as backward. Now Monty must go down in his own esteem to find the courage and the honor needed to survive a way of life he thought he had outgrown.

The author binds (bonds) you to his character the way a woman hawks wares in a crafts market. Neither succeeds without cajoling, and perhaps a few alligator tears. Both work with integrity and zest.

Rolbein's opening chapters demand the reader's indulgence. Written in the island dialect, those chapters sing only after the reader has made the voyage from language structure and tense to the point of communication - a shared idea.

One who knows and loves the sing-song of the language of Jamaica is disappointed seeing and not hearing the words on the page. In the beginning these words nag like a dripping faucet; in time they lap like waves against the shore, comforting and refreshing.

From ``The Sting of the Bee'' there is no defense, and there's no turning back once you've been stung.

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