Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: The Pirate's Daughter

Summary: In 1946, a storm-wrecked boat carrying Hollywood’s most famous swashbuckler shored up on the coast of Jamaica, and the glamorous world of 1940’s Hollywood converged with that of a small West Indian society. After a long and storied career on the silver screen, Errol Flynn spent much of the last years of his life on a small island off of Jamaica, throwing parties and sleeping with increasingly younger teenaged girls. Based on those years, The Pirate’s Daughter is the story of Ida, a local girl who has an affair with Flynn that produces a daughter, May, who meets her father but once.

Spanning two generations of women whose destinies become inextricably linked with the matinee idol’s, this lively novel tells the provocative history of a vanished era, of uncommon kinships, compelling attachments, betrayal and atonement in a paradisal, tropical setting. As adept with Jamaican vernacular as she is at revealing the internal machinations of a fading and bloated matinee idol, Margaret Cezair-Thompson weaves a saga of a mother and daughter finding their way in a nation struggling to rise to the challenge of independence. -- Unbridled Books

THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER by Margaret Cezair-Thompson has been on my radar for over a year now so I was very excited when one of my book club members selected it for our December meeting. News about this book just kept popping up everywhere, and all of the buzz was so good. I think it was only a matter of time before I picked it up.

I first heard about this novel when Unbridled Books released it last fall. The book's description sounded very interesting to me. Then, it started receiving some big-time praise including including the #1 October 2007 Book Sense Pick as well as 2008 Essence Magazine Literary Award for Fiction. In August, the trade paperback version of THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER was released by Random House with a bright, gorgeous cover. And just a few months ago, Celestial Seasonings' Adventure at Every Turn selected it as one of their book club picks. I am just so glad that someone finally selected it for us to discuss.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting when I began reading THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER, but I have to say that the book was a little different than I thought it would be. While I knew that the story was about a young Jamaican girl, Ida, who falls in love with Errol Flynn, I didn't know that the book also included a lot of historical information about Jamaica. Having known absolutely nothing about Jamaica and their struggle for independence in the 1970s, I thought it was very interesting. The author did a tremendous job of incorporating the history with the characters in this novel.

I had always know that Errol Flynn was a unique figure to say the least, but I had no idea how much trouble this man could cause. I found him to be extremely distasteful -- he seemed to prefer under-age girls and lots of alcohol; however, I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of him and his actions -- these scenes were excellent. He must have been such a charismatic figure because men and women alike wanted to be in his presence (although to me he just seemed disgusting.) I found it so sad that Ida fell in love with him (or the idea of him) and ended up sacrificing her entire life because of her feelings.

Not only did I find Mr. Flynn to be an interesting character (albeit pretty minor), but I thought that all of the characters in this novel were very well-developed. Most of the characters are flawed, yet the reader will identify with them and even understand their most questionable actions. I especially appreciated how Ms. Cezair-Thompson explored mother-daughter relationships in this novel. And, there were so many issues concerning race as well as class that are fascinating to think about.

This book definitely has a little something for everyone. First, there is story of a multi-generational Jamaican family which is a great saga on its own. I enjoyed learning about the various cultures as well as the differences in the various generations. There is also a great deal of historical information on Jamaica and its political changes for those readers who like to learn something. In addition, there is lots of terrific dialogue and complex relationships in this novel. And, I loved that this book was quite suspenseful with a few surprises thrown in near the end.

There is no doubt that Ms. Cezair-Thompson is an extremely gifted writer. This book has a wonderful storyline as well as incredibly well written prose. Ms. Cezair-Thompson was born in Jamaica, and it's obvious by her beautiful and vivid descriptions of Jamaica's land and culture that she truly understands the book's subject matter. She currently teaches at literature and creative writing at Wellesley College. If you'd like to hear her speak about THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER, listen to this podcast.

THE PIRATE'S DAUGHTER has all of the elements that make it a wonderful choice for book clubs everywhere. And if you're looking to read a well-written historical fiction book that's a little different from all the "regular" king and queen fare, you really should read this novel. You can read an excerpt here, and there is a reading guide to help facilitate your discussion. I have to warn you that if you read this book with all the gorgeous descriptions of Jamaica, you can be assured that you're going to want to take a little vacation there!


Serena said...

I've seen this book around...sounds like a good one.

Anna said...

The publisher's description of this book didn't get me excited at all. However, after reading your review, I think it sounds like a great read!

Diary of an Eccentric

Cheryl said...

Great review. I love the cover

S. Krishna said...

I totally agree with you - I didn't know what to expect when I started reading the book, but somehow it wasn't what I expected.

Karen Harrington said...

Oh, this sounds so good. I know just who might want it for Christmas, too. Thanks!

Marg said...

I don't remember hearing about this book at all, but I am definitely interested in it now! Thanks!