The Book Maven’s Literary Advent Calendar 2014, Day Nine

December 12th, 2014 | Filed under Books, Reading, The Book Maven's Literary Advent Calendar

When I plan this Calendar ( we can say it’s annual, now, given that I’m stumbling through the second year in a row, right?), I make a list of 25 books that I want to include–but I don’t plan the order in which I’ll include them. Each day’s selection winds up being as much a surprise to me as to readers, and that’s part of what keeps me going. I like choosing at the last minute, depending on my mood and the other things going on in the world to make each day’s “lucky dip” book special.

But today I have a happy, less whimsical reason for picking today’s novel: It’s won an award!

“Land of Love and Drowning: A Novel” by Tiphanie Yanique

Land of Love and DrowningThe first section of Yanique’s glorious debut novel is lovely and interesting, but the story really begins in the second section, with a sentence that electrified me: “I is the historian of the family.” Meet Anette (sic) Bradshaw, narrator of a story set in and around three generations of her family, beginning with the 1917 transfer of her home The Virgin Islands from the Danish to the Americans and continuing to largely sad modern-day life of natives like the Bradshaws.

Anette has a twin sister, Eeona, who is much her elder and much her opposite. Eeona, fragile and beautiful and fussy, epitomizes the colonial life, in which (no matter the country being colonized) invaders attempt to recreate their home traditions in a climate, geography, and culture utterly inhospitable to them. Meanwhile, the younger, sturdier, and far more vibrant Anette represents the indigenous life and people of the Islands. That life and those people may not always speak or behave in ways that are comprehensible to their colonizers–and Yanique’s is one of the best novels illuminating that truth I’ve ever read. As the fortunes of the Bradshaw family rise and fall and fall, their pride and lust and otherworldly abilities continue, and Yanique seems to ask why the hell shouldn’t they? Who says that everyone should behave properly, think rationally, and respect those who do?

I have a friend who once told me “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” The Bradshaws would agree. Yanique might not, because she’s written a novel worth reading that is written astoundingly well. I just hope readers won’t be so entertained that they miss the big issues at stake. In the hands of the right book group, this could be a novel that changes people’s minds and hearts.

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