Monday, January 12, 2015

Land of Love and Drowning - by Tiphanie Yanique

I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Yanique give a reading and Q&A last November when she visited Bridgewater State University. She read from Land of Love and Drowning which I then attempted to check out of the library where I work (which was only there because I ordered it knowing the author would be coming to campus) but someone had beaten me to it. I was finally able to check it out over the winter break. This is a wonderful tale about three generations of Bradshaws during the early and mid-twentieth century. This novel tells some of the history of the Virgin Islands while taking the reader on a journey of magic realism. The narration in the story alternates between sisters Annette and Eeona, and an omniscient narrator giving several perspectives on the family.

The Bradshaw sisters each takes advantage of the library in her own way. Older sister Eeona, living alone, uses the library in the traditional manner - finding books to read "Thrice in one week she went to the library and picked up a novel. She plowed through the books until the gas in the lamp burnt down." Annette makes use of the library's typewriter rental service to write her husband a letter requesting a divorce, she also researches baby names for her second daughter there, and decides on Eve Youme.

I remembered during the reading that the author said something about naming being the first sorcery a parent performs on a child. While I hadn't thought about it in exactly those terms I realized that she was absolutely right. When parents name their baby a certain destiny is created for the new human, and while parents may have their own ideas about meanings and monikers, it is also true that the parents' spells can come undone
...naming is a voodoo all parents do. Annette listed the child's second name as Youme. She'd spent hours in the island's library looking up baby names instead of studying for the teaching certificate. The name didn't mean "ours" as she'd first hoped. It meant "dream." But that also made sense and perhaps what was ours was all a dream anyway. Something to keep striving for or something all in our mind-depending. And as these things go on island, the child was never called Eve. She was called Youme early on, but in the islands' history she will simply be called Me. History could do that, change a person's name. History was something so simple and insistent that none of us has escaped it. 
I enjoyed the imagery, the story, the characters, and learning a bit about the Virgin Islands.

I also read Yanique's collection of short stories How to Escape from a Leper Colony. The final story in the work "Kill the Rabbits" includes one description of a prison library:
When I'm not staring out at the sea I lime in the library. I prefer the salt air to the library's a.c. but sometimes I like the quiet. I like the hard wooden chairs with firm backs. It's a small quiet place, like a vault with precious gold bullion. A vault inside the jail. The tile on the floor is scrubbed shiny and clean and my shoes squeak when I walk. They only let three of us in at a time. And we have to sit at different tables. There are only three long tables in the library. There's a computer in the corner that connects to the Internet.
There is also one librarian metaphor as Herman describes seeing his girlfriend Xica for the first time
She was in a yellow dress that was shiny and out of date-out of place in a tapas bar....She sat at the edge of a bar stool, her back so straight that she reminded me of a librarian.

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