INDIGO by Marina Warner


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From British writer Warner (The Lost Father, 1989, etc.), an uneven--if politically correct--reinterpretation of The Tempest that's weighed down even further by heavy-handed dollops of magic realism. When the young and second wife of her distinguished grandfather, Sir Anthony Everard, gives birth to beautiful Xanthe, Miranda, a child herself, hears an old princess at the christening wish upon the baby a ""kind of imperviousness--the heartlessness of a statue."" Having neatly indicated mythic and legendary undertones, the story then moves back to the 17th century--to the Caribbean island where the Everard family made its fortune in indigo and sugar. There, island sorceress Sycorax miraculously rescues a baby from a drowned slave, establishes her own compound at the end of the island where she grows indigo, and advises the islanders. The baby, the original Caliban, is soon joined by another outcast, an Arawak baby girl called Ariel. Eventually, Caliban, haunted by his African roots, leaves--but Ariel stays, only to be seduced by the first Kit Everard come to claim the island for his own. Their Eden threatened, the islanders rebel, a now-returned Caliban is killed, and Everard and his men are saved by a fluke. Forward, then, to the 20th century when Xanthe and Miranda, different in temperament and experience, are invited to the island to celebrate the anniversary of the first Everard landing Xanthe makes a marriage of convenience and sets about restoring the family fortunes through tourism, but the islanders resent her efforts. A revolt breaks out; Xanthe, who finds love too late, is killed--a sort of long-deferred expiation of Everard guilt; and Miranda, returning to London, marries a black actor and finds happiness. The tempest seems finally over. Better on the past than on the present, with the story coming most alive when Warner describes Sycorax and the pristine island. Otherwise: too much pretentious profundity and polemical handwringing.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster