the Little Red Reviewer

The Land of Love and Drowning, by Tiphanie Yanique

Posted on: March 13, 2015

land of love and drowningThe Land of Love and Drowning, by Tiphanie Yanique

published in 2014

where i got it: purchased new

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A cross hatching of mythology and consequence, Land of Love and Drowning is a family drama on the surface. Scratch away just a few layers and you find a family whose legacy is based on shattering secrets, children who know they are capable of doing horrible things, and a culture forced to a precipice. On the Caribbean island of St. Thomas lives the Bradshaw family, and their unmaking will becoming their making.

 

The Danish West Indies have just become the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bradshaw family of St. Thomas is about to suffer two tragedies. Mrs. Bradshaw will give birth to a second daughter, and Mr. Bradshaw will drown when his ship goes down.  Raised in luxury, older daughter Eeona attended finishing school, and knows how to walk, talk and pour tea like a proper lady.  her beauty is known throughout the islands, and at first the suitors were quite literally lined up down the block. Hers is a beauty that can sink ships. The man she loves will never, and can never marry her, and when her father drowns, the suitors see a desperate fatherless daughter instead of the daughter of a shipping magnate.  Offered a chance to finally make her own living, Mrs. Bradshaw takes her fashionable wares to America, to get her own contracts. She comes home ill and dying. Within the year, the sisters are orphaned and destitute.  Eeona wants only what her father promised her, and baby Anette is too young to want anything at all.

 

Just as much as the story follows the family drama of the Bradshaw family, it follows the history of the island of St. Thomas of the Virgin Islands. In the early 1900s, the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John were literally sold to the United States, ceased to be the Danish West Indies and became the U.S. Virgin Islands. What could America bring to the islands, besides citizenship? How about Prohobition, a war, racism, sleazy movies, and capitalism, just to start.

This is not so much a speculative fiction story as a novel with speculative elements. The way the fantasy elements are treated reminded me a little of Jo Walton’s Among Others, where the plot of the story doesn’t orbit around the magic (except when it does). Most of the Bradshaw women have some level of magic, and even though their magic isn’t seen as something to be concerned about, they tend to act and dress in a way that hides the physical manifestations of their abilities.

 

Something I really connected with in Land of Love and Drowning was the idea of belonging. Where do you belong? Who do you belong to? Who do you belong with?  Characters are called by and compelled to go to different places, they feel they belong there. Some people end up married to certain people because they feel they belong together. And then there is the question of things belonging to someone, rather than a person belonging to a family or a place. The islands themselves, the sea, the beaches, who do they belong to? The people who have lived there for generations, or the Americans who buy up the land, put up a hotel and a sign that says “private property”?

 

Ahh, that word “belong”. the more I say it, the more it says “be longing” back to me. Be. Longing. be missing. if you belong, you miss it when you’re gone, and they miss you. that’s how you know.

 

Throughout the entire story, I felt a feeling of forces pushing up against each other, not unlike waves lapping at a beach, or tectonic plates violently screeing up against each other in slow by unstoppable motion. For their entire lives, Eeona and Anette push up against each other, each convinced the other is making bad decisions and living their life wrong. I don’t know if these sisters will ever quite understand each other. As the American presence on St. Thomas increases, the island lifestyle pushes up against the mainland American lifestyle, and it’s only a matter of reading in between the lines to see that both parties think the other is doing it wrong.

 

It also needs to be said that Tiphanie Yanique writes some damn beautiful prose. Everything from the evocative descriptions of the sea, to the bickering of family members, to scenes that shouldn’t be easy to read or mentally digest, to people’s half remembered childhood memories that might have just been a dream, to a single burning glance turning into a loving relationship, to the languorous way that time flows, the language of Land of Love and Drowning is just gorgeous. I’d love to listen to an audio book of this novel, because I really want to hear both and Eeona’s and Anette’s voices.  Which brings me to dialect. I seem to have a 50% success rate with reading characters who speak in dialect. Sometimes it works ok, other times it takes me so long to figure out what they are saying that I fall right out of the story. Anette speaks nearly entirely in dialect, and let it be known that I loved her tangerine flavored voice from the first word she said. She had a voice that said “follow me”, and I was compelled to follow.  Anette’s chapters are written in first person, so they are entirely in dialect.

 

“her running away had finally taken her to a haunted place where the past greets you at the door”.

 

pg 340

Although this sentence comes near the end of the book, this is the gist of the entire novel. How and when will the secrets bubble to the surface?  I felt a tinge of squicky guilt at how much I craved the scene where all the beans would be split, where there would be no secrets, where people would find out the truth of who they are and where they came from. I wanted to know who would do the telling, and who would do the hearing, and how they would react, and if there would be anger or sadness or shock or simply acceptance. I can’t tell you any of these details, because this is the crux of the story, it is what holds everything together, but the tension of the waiting was deliciously unbearable.   Even to the last pages, when there was some ambiguity, I came to my own satisfying conclusions.

 

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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