San Francisco lawyer returns to her ancestral Caribbean island to sort out a family real-estate wrangle.
Silva’s debut documents the myriad ways in which a prickly, unforgiving family can nevertheless ensnare would-be escapees, miring them in repression and dysfunction on a fictional Caribbean island, Baobique. Jean Sousa is the American-born daughter of Sophie, who married her white teacher and fled to the United States. After desertion by two men, Sophie, who suffers from a depressive addiction to sleep, is back on her Baobique estate, Godwyn, owned jointly with her mother, Granny Pascal. The Pascals are a prominent political family, rivals of the Hills for control of the island. Summoned to Baobique because Sophie’s brother, former Chief Minister George Pascal, is dying of cancer, Jean meets Susan Hill, niece of the former Prime Minister. When Jean’s Uncle Martin spies the two young women making love, Uncle George banishes Jean from the island, which has a strictly enforced anti-homosexuality criminal code. Shortly after George’s death, Sophie enlists Jean’s help: Granny is threatening to add Sophie’s two surviving brothers to the deed of Godwyn, thereby ensuring future sibling warfare. Jean is in the middle of her first major law-reform case, a custody dispute between lesbian parents. Reluctantly, to get her mother off her futon, she accompanies her home, where she encounters Susan and effects a rapprochement, complicated by the fact that Jean ignored Susan’s letters and that Susan, now a physician on Baobique, has a boyfriend with a bright political future. Granny dies, leaving Godwyn’s title as is, but the uncles still claim some inchoate entitlement. Legally, Sophie now owns Godwyn outright, but Jean placates the uncles by negotiating an easement to a family graveyard on the premises. Meanwhile, Jean’s client and her ex, reunited by a lesbian-bashing incident, have seemingly settled their differences.
Lushly evoked island atmosphere and cadenced language as circuitous as a Pascal family fight make for an impressive first novel, despite disjointed narration and remarkably tame conflicts.