Beach Reads: Land of Love and Drowning

Christina just finished this second novel from young St. Thomian writer Tiphanie Yanique. Here’s her recommendation:

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Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique makes for some great pool- or beach-side reading!

“Land of Love and Drowning is breathtaking, a real page-turner that seems to offer insight into the world views and inner lives of Virgin Islanders and how historic and natural events have shaped the culture.

Based loosely on the life experiences of some of her family’s matrons, Ms. Yanique’s novel is in the historical fiction genre. The book spans eras of rapid change in the Virgin Islands, as it traces the path of a family from the 1900s through the 1960s.

The power in the book comes from the actions and inactions of its characters. Ms. Yanique weaves her tale through the different voices of her cast, with varying degrees of local dialect. There are few if any pages frittered on exposition or languorous descriptions of lush vegetation and sandy beaches. The set props are mostly assumed. This makes it a perfect read for the visitor, who is already surrounded by the largely unchanging flora, scenery and cuisine of the Caribbean islands. Instead, the intense focus on the personal lives and thoughts of the protagonists brings the stories and themes across much more pointedly than if the story were told from the third person or even from a single point of view. The voices are vivid and pungent. During and after reading this novel I found it had tuned my ear more to the subtleties of the interactions around me in present day St. Croix.

Ms. Yanique wends her way through many of the issues that make the tiny bubble of island culture so complex: class, race, gender, education, the small-town mindset, insiders vs. outsiders, the diaspora effect (people leaving island and coming back), islanders vs. down islanders, family legacies, the effects of investors…

I was crestfallen when the novel ended, as its pace and richness of character and plot twists left me wanting much more. Perhaps this makes it a great read for a week’s vacation, weighing in at just 358 pages (hardcover edition). A wonderful panacea to the sweet sorrow of the end of the story are the author’s notes at the end, where she pulls back the curtain on her creation, pairing her fictional characters and events with the VI history she researched in her creative process.

Don’t mistake this for young adult fiction. There are serious and dark themes which necessitate the inclusion of sexual content and descriptions of incest, so I would advise parental discretion.

Fantastic, gripping story woven in the truest Virgin Islands threads.”

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Land of Love and Drowning is, along with many other books by local authors, available at Undercover Books in Gallows Bay on St. Croix, USVI.

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