Two generations of women lose their innocence, while finding love and friendship, in this coming-of-age story that reflects Jamaica’s own bid for independence. Their family’s lineage follows Jamaica’s history from the Maroons, escaped slaves who set up communities in the mountains; to an influx of expatriates, British rule, and wealthy celebrities seeking a playground; to a discovery of balance, harmony, and new birth.
The prologue introduces readers to May, a twenty-six-year-old young woman whose name reflects her questions—“when May I,” “where May I,” “with whom May I find a place where I belong?” Her I-centric mother, beautiful Ida, serves as the lynchpin on which this novel revolves. Men enter and leave the mother and daughter’s lives. Each character is allowed to be human, with flaws, strengths, and mistakes to correct.
Ida, a child blossoming into womanhood and adored by her Syrian father and Maroon/Chinese mother, falls for the charming and aging Errol Flynn. In fact, the American swashbuckling movie star did run aground during a storm in 1946, fall in love with Jamaica, and build a home on a nearby island—a kind of Jamaican Tara. There the facts end and fiction proceeds.
Ida gives birth to their daughter, May. Flynn flees and Ida heads to America to find work and a way to support her child. She leaves May behind to dream of pirates, hidden treasure, and her movie star father. While at the mercy of caretakers who by turns ignore and abuse her, May endures the taunts of Jamaican peers: “White witch! You white like duppy [ghost]!” Only her childhood friend and playmate, Derek, stands by and protects her, showing up when needed most.
Lies, drugs, and a violent tug-of-war for control of Jamaica’s government destroy the paradise. Each generation of women gains strength as the country also finds the power to rebuild. Ida and May share many of the same attributes as Scarlett O’Hara of the classic Gone With The Wind as they fight for home and family and men they love, but shouldn’t.
Cezair-Thompson, who teaches literature and creative writing at Wellesley College, weaves pirates and hidden treasure throughout the novel, adding another exotic element to an already rich setting. This, the author’s second novel, is told in a quiet, simple style, and sprinkled with Jamaican speech, beliefs, and details that the author learned during her childhood in Jamaica. It follows her first novel The True History of Paradise, a finalist for the Dublin International IMPAC Award.
The intertwining of Jamaica history and the characters’ lives elevates this novel from simply entertaining to truly memorable.