First-time novelist tells Virgin Islands generational saga with buoyant touch


This review of Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning appeared in The Columbus Dispatch.

Multi-generational family sagas can be heavy going, demanding mental charts to keep track of all the interrelated characters.

Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning certainly poses these challenges, but the first-time novelist has a light touch that gives her tale an enchanting buoyancy.

The novel is set in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Yanique grew up, from “Transfer Day” in 1917, when the islands were bought from Denmark by the United States, up through the political turmoil of the 1970s.

Public events — including the growing impact of tourism on the islands, the involvement of its people in World War II, and the devastation caused by hurricanes — play a role.

But more crucial are the complications of events within the Bradshaw family.

Two Bradshaw sisters, born in the early decades of the 20th century, are the principal narrators of the novel, and they and their half-brother, Jacob, set most of the plot into motion.

Eeona, who becomes a hotel owner, is the elder sister, and when she speaks, it’s in deliberately proper English.

Her life, however, is not quite as proper as she would like it to be. She has “episodes” that take her off the deep end, and her love life has its idiosyncrasies.

As does that of her younger sister, Anette, who teaches history, and just as deliberately speaks in a Caribbean dialect.

The third voice in the novel is the collective one of “we old wives,” who know all about the lives of everyone in the extended family.

Magic and myth seep into even the most realistic events.

Anegada, the “drowned island” where the girls’ mother, Antoinette, grew up, casts its spell on the way the two women see their lives.

The island is surrounded by a coral reef on which hundreds of ships have been wrecked, the most crucial to the story being the ship captained by their father.

The ocean that surrounds the islands, embracing and attacking them, sets the tone for the novel, the language of which is fluid and sparkling one minute, dark and brooding the next.

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