Tiphanie Yanique’s debut novel, Land of Love and Drowning*, is one of the most unusual and spellbinding family sagas I’ve ever read. Set over six decades in the Virgin Islands, the narrative revolves around two strikingly beautiful, and strikingly different, sisters.
Anette and Eeona are the children of one Captain Bradshaw and his wife Antoinette, two volatile people who keep secrets from each other, their children, and maybe even themselves. Both have high hopes and expectations when the Virgin Islands trade hands from Danish to American rule in the early 1900s, hopes that are dashed. Their children are left orphaned, and when Anette and Eeona begin to navigate their straitened financial and social circumstances, the story takes flight.
Though they’re both bound to love the wrong kind of man, the sisters are different in terms of temperament, tastes, education, and worldview. Heavily influenced by her mother, Eeona longs to escape from the Virgin Islands (and from the responsibility of raising Anette); she’s aware of her beauty’s perilous power, and takes care to isolate herself in many ways. Given her education and upbringing, it’s no surprise that the sections of the narrative written in Eeona’s voice showcase her careful choice of words and formal style.
Anette, on the other hand, is much more open and frank (with other people) than her sister. Her voice is rendered in dialect; she’s warm and funny and curious, open to all kinds of experiences, even if they land her in trouble. While Eeona is wary of love and male attention, Anette welcomes what comes her way, accepting the devotions of three very different, but good men.
What this review can’t convey adequately is the grace with which Ms. Yanique renders her portrait of the Virgin Islands in a century of upheaval and change (war, tourism, protest movements, and a hurricane all affect the characters), and the deft way in which she weaves magical realism into the narrative to explore characters and emotions. Land of Love and Drowning is a beautiful, vibrant book, and I hope it brings more attention not only to the talented Ms. Yanique, but also to Caribbean literature.
Coming Soon: An Interview with Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.