Land of Love and Drowning

9781594488337_custom-c4ee149dfb87d33a5d20818ae98fde2c0a193b22-s99-c85Land of Love and Drowning
Tiphanie Yanique
Published July 10, 2014
355 pages (hardcover)

The other day, my mom remarked that I’ve been giving a lot of books high ratings lately. She’s right. In the last month or so, I’ve given a 4/5 to The Girls from Corona del Mar, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, and Americanah. She jokingly questioned whether I had gotten soft.

So, what’s the deal? Have I been in an exceptionally good mood and feeling generous lately? Perhaps. But my rating for each of those books has since been confirmed by people who read the posts and subsequently read the books (thanks Erin, Shana, and Tina, respectively!). I’m inclined to think, therefore, that I’ve just been having some really good luck with some really good books lately.

Land of Love and Drowning continues that streak. When I finished reading it, I was a bit concerned about giving a 4/5 to yet another book. For me, a 4/5 can only be achieved by a really good book—a book that is not only exceptionally well written, but also one that has a big impact on me (it either makes me think a lot or feel a lot or both)–and I certainly don’t want that rating to get diluted or seem easy to achieve. But, after ruminating on it for a bit, I decided that I had to give this book a 4/5. It deserves it.

Rating: 4/5

This book is unique and, because of that, it is definitely not for everyone. It has some very polarizing qualities.

For starters, it is chock-full of incest. And it’s not always abusive, shameful, scary incest (although, arguably, there’s some of that, too). Some of it is unintentional (that is to say, unknown), loving, caring incest. Some of it is intentional and nevertheless, arguably, loving and caring. A book about loving, caring incest is probably not everyone’s cup of tea.

There’s also a good bit of magical realism (be forewarned, Fiction Fan and others of her ilk!) with some island voodoo mixed in for good measure. There’s a chick who can read minds, a chick who can cast curses that come true (“speak-and-make-it-so magic”), and a woman with a hoof where her foot should be. This magical realism gets expertly mixed with writing that is full of such beautiful imagery that there are times when you lose track of where the magical realism ends and the imagery begins. Like this paragraph:

Over breakfast, Jacob Esau told his mother that he had met Anette Bradshaw. At this, his mother’s hair, cut just below the ears since her sons had all reached puberty, stood out straight as if it were a den of snakes she carried hidden in her scalp. She hissed at Jacob Esau. Her tongue flicked out long and she stamped her foot like a steed. 

On top of that, the story is told from multiple voices. Mostly, it is told by the unnamed “old wives” as a family history about the Bradshaw sisters, Eeona and Anette (“Anette Bradshaw will be as different from her elder sister as water is from land. The elder sister will be so stunning that men will scare of her. But not Anette. Boys will stick to the younger sister like the slick of mango juice. A trinity of men will feel the love of her like casha bush burring their scalp in sleep.”). But there are also chapters told in first person by the sisters (and a couple by their brother, Jacob). Eeona is well-mannered and intent on keeping up appearances. Her voice reflects that. It is measured, reserved, and uses only the most proper English. Anette is wilder, led by her heart, and full of internal conflict. Her voice is the voice of the islands:

The restaurant was called Hibiscus Hotel. I, for one, had never heard of it. A stupid name, you hear, but that’s what Americans always doing. Naming things after island things that don’t make no sense. Who want a hotel that sound like it fill with hibiscus? That’s the kind of flower close up and dead when nighttime come. That’s what you want people thinking when they fall asleep? But Hibiscus Hotel wasn’t make for we.

If you’re on the end of the spectrum that is OK with the incest (reading about it, that is) and the magical realism and the narrative style, then you’re in for a treat.

This book is great. Above all else, it is a tribute to the beauty, magic, and history of the Virgin Islands:

But these islands are just too beautiful. You walk out of your own front door into cathedrals. You step down your own stairs up toward an altar. God speaks from the bougainvillea bush, from Mountain Top. You go to the beach and swim in holy water. The beauty, like Gods’ face is ubiquitous and it is blinding.

But it is also a complex and intricate history that spans decades. The characters are vivid and beautiful and weird and interesting. Yanique is an excellent (although occasionally meandering) story-teller, and the book is beautifully, creatively written (while I read, I marked about twenty stunning sentences and paragraphs . . . but  I decided it would be too spoiler-y to include most of them in my review. I would rather let you discover and appreciate them during your own reading of the book).

Ignore the negative Amazon and Goodreads reviews (they just don’t get it . . . or they’re merely  turned off by one of the things I mention above), and read this book now.

The hype: 

This is a debut novel by a relatively unknown writer, so it hasn’t gotten a lot of hype. It deserves much, much more.

Who should read it: John and Lindsay (i.e., people who have a fondness for magical realism and an appreciation for the beauty of the Virgin Islands); Tina (i.e., people who like unique, thought-provoking books with interesting voices. This would be a bold book-club pick).

Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are comings soon:

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7 thoughts on “Land of Love and Drowning

  1. I loved Americanah! It was my second favorite book of the year behind We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves (which you didn’t like as much, although I didn’t have any pre-conceived chimp stories in my mind). I just added these to my To Read list.

    • In an interesting coincidence, my book club’s selection this month was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and we’re meeting tonight to discuss it! You’re right, I didn’t think it was one of the best of the year, but I did think it was thought-provoking and well written (and after seeing Karen Joy Fowler speak a couple months ago, I will certainly read more of her books–she was brilliant and funny!). I am curious to see how other people felt about it.

      Have you read any of Adichie’s other books? I have her short-story collection on hold at the library and have heard excellent things about it. She is phenomenal.

      If you read any of these books, I would love to hear your assessments of them!

  2. HahaHA! Thanks for the link… and the warning! The incest wouldn’t bother me nearly as much as the woman with a hoof… 😉

    Really must get around to reading Americanah though….

    • You’re welcome! This is the first book I’ve read containing magical realism since your post “banning” it, and I thought of that post and chuckled as I was reading.

      Yes, do read Americanah . . . and let me know what you think of it once you’ve read it!

      • 😆 Nearly every book I’ve read since that post has fallen into one of the ‘banned’ categories… I’m not very good at following my own rules it seems!

        I’ve added Americanah to the groaning TBR… 🙂

  3. LOVE the quote about the islands–maybe the beauty and the magic can balance out the incest for me?!?!?!

    • You would like this book. The incest is obviously gross (and if you read some of the negative reviews that I mentioned, there are some people who are completely and understandably put off by it), but it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the book. You don’t come away from the book feeling icky–the beauty and magic definitely balance out the creep factor. I think Hotel New Hampshire is a good measuring block. If you can handle the incest in that, you can certainly handle the incest in this (here, it is WAY less graphic).

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