Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
Reviewed by Sidik Fofana
Sometimes when a young writer of color is compared to Zora Neale Hurston, it has little bearing on the writer’s actual style. Ethnic fiction is so diminished when placed next to its hegemonic counterpart that its palette seems limited. How can one accurately describe a new writer’s style when the list of references does not stretch much further than Morrison, Wright, Ellison, Baldwin, and Hurston? The only solace is with these comparisons—like Tiphanie Yanique to Zora Neale Hurston—the critics have their hearts in the right place. If not entirely accurate, they speak at the basest level to the resonance of the work.
In Land of Love and Drowning, two sisters from a well-bred clan, are forced to bear the tragic death of their father, sea captain, Owen Arthur Bradshaw and the dramatic class demotion that accompanies it. They unceremoniously go from pampered to paupered, a transition much like their native Virgin Islands’ which swordlessly transfers from Dutch to American rule in 1917. The novel chronicles the stately Eeona and much younger and fiery Annette as they navigate the fits and starts of independent life without status. Their bottled existences become subject to the whims of the men around them. The women’s magnetism becomes their only gateway to emancipation.
As Eeona puts, “Beauty is a parlour trick.”
It is a mythical Virgin Islands that Yanique has chosen to portray, by magical realist feint along the way. Sea people and apparitions inhabit Anegada, the island’s northernmost tip. Incest and divine beauty pervade. The territory invokes justice in its own waters, unravels secrets at its own pace with invisible wisdom. Women are imbued with their own supernature in the form of silver pubic hair and clubbed feet. We see why many writers rely on these fantastical leanings. Yanique has created a parablesque world ruled by morals and metaphor.
If the Zora Neale Hurston comparisons are warranted, they would apply to Annette’s chapter. As the younger sister, she is born post-fortune into the working class Caribbean stratus that endows her pidgin. Her speech is sprinkled with “ains” and “sameselfs” that give the novel an audio authenticity. The novel features four different perspectives: an omnipresent roving eye, buttressed by firsthand chapters from each sister and the occasional interjection by their half-brother Jacob.
Yanique prefers to languish in the quiet moments. She is not so much concerned with blockbuster plot points, graphic deaths, or pornographically delineated sex scenes. She is more interested with the moments leading up to or arising shortly after. This predilection slightly bogs down the novel’s pacing, but also allows Yanique to showcase her poetic sensibilities.
Lyrical and sprawling, Land of Love and Drowning elegantly balances fact and legend. It is the sepia-tone story of love and justice that firmly roots Yanique as a voice to be reckoned with—one that transcends the island her birth.
Sidik Fofana has written several publication including the Source, Vibe, and allhiphop.com. His work appears in the recently released The Black Male Handbook: Blueprint for Life edited by Kevin Powell.