My Favorite Caribbean Books

As you probably know if you follow this blog or know me in real life, I’m finishing up my first semester of grad school at Gardner-Webb (and my fourth semester overall) in just a few days. I’ve just completed one of two final papers that are due on Thursday in my class on Caribbean women’s writing; this one is my theory of Caribbean writing. I really enjoyed writing the paper as it’s caused me to review most of the books I’ve read this semester. Early in the semester, I reviewed some of the ones I read, but I haven’t done that as of late, so I decided to just make a post of my favorite books from this semester.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

This was the only Caribbean book I’d ever read before taking this course. The first time I read it, I didn’t appreciate it very much, and I was mostly just frustrated that it seemed to be attacking Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books of all time. After studying it in a world lit class almost two years ago and again this semester, however, I actually really like the book. Jean Rhys wrote this book in thee 1960s, as a re-writing of Jane Eyre from Rochester’s wife Bertha’s perspective. In Rhys’ story, Bertha is really Antoinette, a white Creole living in the Dominican, who is married off to Rochester (who is actually unnamed in this story). This book is a quintessential postcolonial novel and one of the first novels out of the Caribbean to achieve wide critical acclaim. It’s a quick read (just a little over 100 pages) and a great introduction to Caribbean literature.

Prospero’s Daughter by Elizabeth Nunez

This book is one of the most recently published book we read in class–it’s only been out since 2006. This book is another retelling–this time of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I haven’t actually read this play, so some of the connections were lost on me; however, this book is spectacular even without prior literary knowledge. I had a hard time putting it down (though some parts are difficult to read), and I really enjoyed the read (probably because it’s one of the only books in the class that has a truly happy ending). The book is the story of Dr. Gardner (a.k.a. Prospero) who flees his native England to avoid scandal and takes over an estate on the island of Chacachacare off the coast of Trinidad. His daughter Virginia, who was three at the time they leave England, grows up on the island and becomes more Caribbean than English. She also falls in love with a Caribbean boy named Carlos, whom her father highly disapproves of. He attempts to separate them at all cost.

This book isn’t just a romance novel. It’s incredibly well-written, with beautiful descriptions of the land and insightful portrayals of the characters. Nunez is brilliant at showing versus telling, and the book serves as both a novel to be critically acclaimed and to enjoy. Furthermore, I fell in love with the island of Chacachacare (which actually exists) so much so that I added visiting the island to The List.

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

This is the book I chose to read for my final project for my class. This is a collection of nine short stories and an epilogue. Danticat is Haitian, and all the stories either take place in Haiti or in the lives of Haitian immigrants to the United States. It’s honestly one of the most moving pieces of literature I’ve ever read, and the one on this list that I recommend most highly. For a full review, see this post.

Crossing the Mangrove by Maryse Conde

Yet another incredible book that I could hardly put down. This is the story of Francis Sancher, whose body is found in the marsh at the beginning of the novel. Through a series of vignettes told from sixteen different characters’ perspective, we as readers begin to understand the intricacies of life in the village of Riviere au Sel. Each character talks about his or her experiences with Francis (some of the women are in love with him, some of the men loathe him, others are indifferent but have some story to tell, etc.). We end up learning about the characters themselves in their reactions to Francis, and we also learn that Francis was an enigma, and we never could fully understand his story.

From the beginning, Conde’s narrative style reminded me so much of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, particularly his story “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” In both GGM’s story and Conde’s book, a dead man acts as a catalyst for change in a small Caribbean village. However, Conde’s story, because of its length, is a great example of characterization, and I’m frankly amazed at Conde’s ability to give voice to so many distinct people. It’s brilliant.

Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

In this memoir, Danticat proves that she is just as adept at nonfiction as short stories. This book, published just three years ago, is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Danticat tells the stories of her father and her uncle. As a child, Danticat’s parents immigrated to New York, leaving her and her younger brother in Haiti to be raised by her father’s brother Joseph. As a result, Danticat essentially has two fathers, which both her father and uncle recognize. As an adult, Danticat watches her father’s decline in health around the same time that her uncle flees Haiti, seeking asylum in the U.S. Because of a ton of political reasons that angered me as I read the book, her uncle is declined the asylum he seeks; he is also treated horribly in a detainment center. Danticat tells this story in a way that celebrates the lives of her two fathers while revealing the injustice of society in both Haiti and America. It’s truly an excellent read.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Note: there are spoilers in this summary; however, if you were to read the back of the book, you’d find out the info anyway, as I did.

Alvarez, like Danticat, is a Caribbean writer who has actually achieved a great deal of popularity in the United States. This book is another excellent work. Alvarez tells the story of the Mirabal sisters, who lived in the Dominican Republic under Generalissimo Trujillo’s dictatorship. She fictionalizes their story, imagining their childhood and the decisions they made to join the revolution against Trujillo. Two of the four sisters were imprisoned themselves, and their husbands, plus their sister Patrice’s husband, were also imprisoned. Trujillo intentionally moved the men to a prison farther away from the sister, knowing they would have to travel down a danger pass to visit their husbands. One night, just a few months before Trujillo is overthrown and killed, he has the Mirabal sisters ambushed and executed.

The Mirabal sisters–known as Las Mariposas, or “the butterflies”–are revolutionaries, but they’re also sisters, and Alvarez very aptly writes to reveal the numerous, sometimes contradictory, roles they play.

The hardest part about reading this book was knowing the ending, knowing that three of the sisters would die. Each sister has one chapter in each of the three sections of the book in which she tells her story, but the story begins and ends with Dede, the surviving Mirabal sister. From the beginning, the reader knows that three of the protagonists are going to die. It’s really difficult to get so attached to a character, knowing that she won’t make it to the end of the book. It’s even harder when you get attached to three characters. Nonetheless, this is an incredibly evocative story, and yet another one that I highly recommend.


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