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Book review: Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

The author offers an exemplary portrait of Caribbean life

By Tiphanie Yanique. Riverhead Books; $27.95.

How rare to encounter a dauntless and complex novel that convincingly melds true history with magic, but Tiphanie Yanique’s debut—a rich seascape about family and legacy, beauty’s clout and the variable waves of race and class on the twentieth-century Caribbean islands—accomplishes just that.

The story is comprised of the lives and loves of the orphaned Bradshaw sisters on St. Thomas; Eeona’s dignified English and Anette’s haphazard Creole take turns interrupting the omnipresent narrator—the voice of the islands themselves—and each speaker skillfully mingles Caribbean lore with hard fact. Drafted in World War II, Anette’s first husband faces the reality of segregation; Eeona falls for a spiderlike man, a representation of the trickster Anancy; and when tourists overrun St. Thomas, the island locals must fight for their beaches. So much happens in the midsized novel’s pages, yet Yanique’s authorial power never wavers; whether depicting incest in the Bradshaw family or the mythic outcome of that indiscretion, she renders each scene in sharp details that transcend culture, that travel across oceans.

Similarly, Eeona and Anette illuminate the novel as beacons of female fortitude, steadfast when facing pregnancy and poverty and the unshakeable question of belonging. The island sands may not always belong to them, but the women spend their lives convincing the world—and the reader—that  they belong only to themselves.

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Set in the Virgin Islands in the early 1900s, Tiphanie Yanique's debut novel exuberantly captures the spirit of the Caribbean and one family's struggles to stay afloat in changing times. The author reads from and signs her book tonight.

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