Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for This Other Island by Steffanie Edward. My thanks to Sarah Hardy for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Bookouture for my digital review copy via NetGalley.
About the Book
Things between me and Papa are so different to what me and Mum have. It’s been that way since the first day. An invisible bond. Papa was the one who never stopped encouraging me to strive for my goals. ‘Take every opportunity dis country give you, ich mwen,’ he’d always said…
When Yvette receives a call to say her estranged father Joe has been attacked in a seemingly random act of violence, she rushes to his side. She’d stayed with her mother after her parents separated, but never forgot her father’s kind and caring ways. Memories of his wide smile and loving embraces – so different to her mother Doli – have always sustained her.
But when she arrives, ready to make peace and help him in any way she can, she finds a man different to the larger-than-life father she remembers. Joe is fighting for his life, but is also haunted by memories of his past. He begs Yvette to help him find out the truth… About the journey that brought him and a beautiful young woman called Doli together, as they both travelled – as part of the Windrush Generation, to start new lives in Britain. About the lives they left behind in St Lucia. And about a dark secret – one that he has carried with him since stepping off the ship that wet and chilly August day. That threatened his and Doli’s marriage from the very beginning…
Only Yvette can find out what really happened on that crossing. Because, for forty years, Joe has believed that he killed a man. A man who had had feelings for Doli too. And who – as Joe knows – might hold the key to Yvette’s own story…
Format: Paperback (312 pages) Publisher: Bookouture
Publication date: 21st May 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Find This Other Island on Goodreads
I’ll admit I was drawn This Other Island because it features St Lucia, one of the Caribbean islands I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. And, given the miserable weather we’ve been experiencing recently, I must say I’m rather jealous of the author who now divides her time between the UK and St Lucia.
I confess it took me a little time to get straight in my head the different members of Yvette’s extended family and the relationships between them. The twists and turns the story takes, although essential to the plot, added to the challenge.
The book alternates between different points of view: Yvette herself, her father Joe and her mother, Doli. The sections written from Doli’s point of view are in the first person and use patois, providing a constant reminder of her Caribbean heritage. Although this may not be a feeling shared by other readers, for me the use of patois, vernacular words and phrases throughout the book wasn’t a barrier to understanding the story; on the contrary, it enhanced it by adding a sense of authenticity. It also references the theme of identity which is a key element of the book. For example, whilst honouring her heritage by cooking her father Joe his favourite spicy soup with eddoes, Yvette has pretty much lost (or perhaps removed) all trace of her Caribbean accent, despite having spent her early years being brought up by Dolinda’s sister, Agnes, in St Lucia.
I mentioned earlier that I had been to St Lucia. In fact I have been fortunate enough to visit a number of Caribbean islands, albeit only as ports of call on Caribbean cruises. I’m not afraid to admit that, initially, I thought of the ‘West Indies’ as a homogenous entity and imagined the people of one island frequently ‘popping across’ to other islands. Of course once I learned more about the islands, I realised they have very different histories, cultures and even languages. For example, Dominica and St Lucia, having both been colonized by the French, share a language which would not be easily understood by the inhabitants of other Caribbean islands. I mention this because Doli, who recalls the racism she faced when she arrived in England in the 1960s, initially rejects the advances of Cedric because he is Jamaican whereas she comes from St Lucia.
Yvette’s efforts to discover the fate of the man Joe encountered on the boat to England becomes increasingly important to her, not only because it offers the possiblity of restoring the close relationship she and her father once enjoyed, but because it provides a welcome distraction from her concerns about his health and the complications in her own personal life. Before long, finding the truth becomes more important than ever.
This Other Island is an intriguing multi-layered story about family and identity that contains moments of happiness and sorrow. Yvette’s search for the truth about her father’s past adds an element of mystery but for me the book’s appeal lay chiefly in its careful unpicking of the complexities of family life and its celebration of Caribbean culture.
In three words: Insightful, assured, emotional
Try something similar: The Housing Lark by Sam Selvon
About the Author
Steffanie Edward was born in St Lucia, brought up in London and now straddles between the two. Anancy, Crick-crick and other Caribbean folk stories have been a part of her life since childhood. In her late teens she enjoyed reading Susan Howatch and books on slavery. Her absolute favourite reads have been Wild Seed by Octavia E Bulter, and Woman At Point Zero by Naawal El Saadawi.
Her writing career started with short stories, five of which have been published. Her first attempt at writing a novel was over twenty years ago, whilst living and working in Abu Dhabi. That novel, Yvette, didn’t make it into print, but the main protagonist, Yvette, has muscled her way into Steffanie’s debut novel, This Other Island.