You wouldn’t find Tiphanie Yanique’s sublime novel Land of Love and Drowning in the historical fiction section of your local bookstore, but it does transport you to the island of St. Thomas at the turn of the century, just as the Danes are handing over control of the Virgin Islands to the United States. Yanique presents us with a story set on her home island, a family saga that spans some 60 years. Her prose combines a touch of Gabriel García Márquez, William Faulkner transported to the Caribbean, and Zadie Smith’s grasp on a place’s dialect and ability.
Land of Love and Drowning shifts from a pre-war world to the modern one without getting overly caught up in the details or politics of the region. It’s told through the shifting points of view of multiple narrators (the voices of the two sisters, Anette and Eeonna, are the strongest), but the novel finds its strongest character in mysterious, chaotic St. Thomas itself. The unsettling feeling that hangs around the island seems just as palpable as the ocean breeze. As things progress, we find that there’s still a little magic left in this part of the world.
Ultimately, this vibrant novel is about the sins of the father haunting his children long after he’s gone. It’s a story of family and of place, but Yanique writes so clearly, and wastes little time setting the scene for the reader, that it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in either of those things. We bond with the characters, can’t help but hear Anette’s voice as she speaks to us with her island dialect, and can hear the waves crashing in the distance throughout the whole thing. If there’s a better book to read over the summer than this one, please let me know where you findit.