#TheIslandAtTheEdgeOfTheWorld #Netgalley #LittleBrownBookGroup
I have loved reading this novel while in lockdown, because it’s taken me away from my everyday life and thrown all my senses into the vibrant country of Haiti. I’ve been introduced to Haitian literature at university many years ago and love the author Edwidge Danticat. I’ve also read a lot about the history of the island and particularly the aftermath of the terrible earthquake, This novel follows four protagonists in that same time period. Charlie works as a hairdresser and has a great relationship with her grandmother but is estranged from her mother. Charlie has a traumatic past. These issues are both common to women in Haiti – trauma and the estrangement of families. Her grandmother Bea, thinks that Charlie needs a relationship with her mother to make sense of her past and find peace.Lizbeth has travelled to the island from Texas and is hoping to find her grandchild. She’s a widow, who has taken the courage to travel alone and find this part of her family that’s missing from her life. Senzy lives in Haiti and has a pivotal role in teaching these women true strength and resilience of spirit.
The descriptions of the island are immersive, I was assailed by sights, smells and colour until I’d built up such a vivid sense of place it was weird to look up and see my own living room! I enjoyed being educated about Voodoo. I knew how it came about as a combination of African animistic religions from the days of slavery and the French occupiers who practised Catholicism. It was interesting to see what the practice means to everyday Haitians and where spirituality fits into their lives. I also enjoyed the contradiction in both the island and the women of the novel. Haitian women are described as walking with ‘surety’, a pride and certainty in themselves. Rodriguez writes that you were left in no doubt they were not to be messed with. The island is equally bold and strong, but underneath there is some weakness – a sense that life here can be very fragile, despite its vibrant, powerful appearance.
Rodriguez will open some people9s eyes with her exploration of Haitian politics and society. There is, it seems, almost a resigned acceptance that corruption permeates all official organisations. As I know from my own reading, this extends to the NGOs too. The people have seen decades of this and it is now part of life. I find that so sad and struggle to imagine how trapped those at the bottom of society feel – nothing they do can make a difference. Through one of the narratives the author shows how corrupt the orphanages are in the country. Even those trying to help, might have ulterior motives.
Each woman felt real to me and I knew them well by the end of the novel. The author weaves their past into the narrative so we understand how they came to be here. They are well rounded with as many flaws as good points, but that only serves to make them more relatable. More than anything though I loved being immersed in this incredible place and the author completes the experience by giving us information on how to help and recipes to try. This is brilliant for me as I like to cook something to complement the book on my book club evenings. It is rare to come across a novel that balances both escapism and a social conscience but this book has both elements.
Meet The Author
Deborah Rodriguez spent five years teaching at and later directing the Kabul Beauty School, the first modern beauty academy and training salon in Afghanistan. Rodriguez also owned the Cabul Coffee House. She is now a hairdresser, a motivational speaker, and the author of the bestselling novel The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul. Deborah currently lives in Mexico where she owns the Tippy Toes Salon. To learn more about her visit http://www.debbierodriguez.com