In 1978, 900 inhabitants of the utopian community Jonestown in Guyana were persuaded to poison themselves with cyanide by the Reverend Jim Jones. Those who refused to do so were shot. The people who settled in Jonestown came to found a radically equal new society ; the Reverend Jim Jones took over their minds and destroyed their dream. In this long narrative poem, Fred D, Aguiar tells the story of Jonestown from the point of view of a young man who has left London to join the community. The poems are an exploration of his state of mind as his idealism dwindles and he becomes increasingly helpless. Against the odds, he survives endless rain, famine, the seduction of the owman he loves by the lecherous Reverend who deflowers all the community's virgins, and, finally, the cyanide coursing through his veins. In verse that mixes linguistic registers with great innovation and moves through an exhilarating range of rhythms from the repititions of biblical language to the riffs of popular music, D'Aguiar looks at the nature of religious zealotry and the suffering and stalwartness of one of its victims.
Fred D'Aguiar was born in 1960 and brought up in Guyana and London. He currently teaches English at the University of Miami. Chatto have published his three novels. The Longest Memory, winner of the 1992 Whitbread First Novel Award, Dear Future (1996) and Feeding the Ghosts (1997) and are shortly to publish his selected poems.