A young woman unearths the violent history of her Caribbean home.
Nobody on Myrna’s island talks about the place’s past: plugged deep in the Caribbean, it once housed a plantation owned by a man named Cruffey, along with his slaves. Most of the island’s current black-skinned residents, Myrna included, are descendants of those slaves. Many of them share Cruffey’s last name. To talk about that past is verboten; to visit the ruins of the estate, even more so. In any case, those ruins have long since been overgrown by brush. Now, the focal point of the island is the tourist resort that has taken over most of it. Wealthy white patrons lounge by the pool, their backs to the sea. Myrna works as a maid. Whenever a new boatload of visitors arrives, she and the rest of the staff play out a troubling diorama. The white workers dress up as Columbus; the black workers, descendants of slaves, dress up as “natives”—none of whom have survived to the present day. This is the first novel by Entel, a professor of African-American and Caribbean literature at Cornell, and it is a magnificent one. Her prose is lyrical, luminous, and each detail has been planted as precisely as a foundation stone. Myrna begins spending her evenings struggling through the brush to the island’s interior, where the ruins are located. The way is difficult. Her skin and clothes are snagged by thorns. She hardly knows what she’s looking for. Then, one day, a black American woman shows up, a tourist, with a large book Myrna soon catches sight of: The Cruffey Plantation Journal: 1833. It’s the most explicit reference to the island’s past Myrna has come across. As Myrna pursues the book and the ghosts of the island’s past, long-buried tensions begin to rise. The dioramas staged by the resort staff grow crueler, more violent. In a way, Myrna’s project echoes Entel’s larger one: both Myrna and Entel seek to unearth a long-buried history; both of them seek to give voice to those who have been silenced. Here’s hoping that Entel follows her first novel with many more.
A reckoning with the legacies of colonialism and slavery and their reverberations in the present day.