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RED ISLAND HOUSE by Andrea Lee Kirkus Star


by Andrea Lee

Pub Date: March 23rd, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-982137-80-9
Publisher: Scribner

When she weds an Italian tycoon, an African American intellectual becomes the unwilling mistress of an estate in Madagascar.

They meet at a wedding in Como, Italy, a case of opposites attract. "To Shay, fresh out of graduate school, Senna is a new experience: this cheeky, charismatic Italian a decade and a half older than she is, a businessman...who...has bought part of an actual island." During their courtship, Senna builds the Red House, a tropical mansion whose architectural influences range from Indonesia to Antigua to Disney World, staffing it with an army of locals and a Greek house manager, to provide a setting for an annual holiday throughout their married life. In a series of tales set over two decades, Shay has a love-hate relationship with the estate and her role there; she is "expected to pass her holiday months not as a sojourner comfortably decompressing from a busy Milan life of teaching and translating and chivying her college-bound kids, but as a vigilant matriarch who exerts iron control—even if it is part-time—over the work ethic, health, and morality of her numerous Malagasy household staff." Gorgeous writing, fascinating stories, and a vibrant cast of locals and expats dance around this basic theme. One of Shay's early allies is Bertine La Grande, the head housekeeper, who helps her use witchcraft to undo the wrongs wrought by her husband and the evil manager. Another thread depicts the rivalry between two powerful women, one a restaurateur and the other a bar owner. Against a background of myth and magic, as well as racism, sex tourism, and exploitation, the never-perfect match between Senna and Shay continues to devolve.

An utterly captivating, richly detailed, and highly critical vision of how the one percent lives in neocolonial paradise.