Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 167.
- Review Date: 2007-08-06
- Reviewer: Staff
Cezair-Thompson conjures the tragic glamour of golden age Hollywood against the backdrop of lusty, turbulent Jamaica in her dual generational coming-of-age saga. Ida Joseph is 13 years old when Errol Flynn is nearly shipwrecked off the coast of her hometown of Port Antonio in 1946. Flynn instantly loves Jamaica and, eager to find a refuge from stateside scandal, purchases an island across from the port. Navy Island becomes the setting for his glittering parties, movie projects and affair with Ida in her senior year of high school. Flynn refuses to take responsibility for the resulting child, May, and after trying to make a go of it in Jamaica, Ida leaves May and heads to New York City, where she marries a wealthy baron friend of Flynn's who purchases the island after Flynn dies. May grows to adulthood on Navy Island, develops something more than a crush on a married family friend 40 years her senior and indulges in drugs and free love. Jamaica's tumultuous progression toward self-governance—with the violent chaos it unleashes on Navy Island—reveals certain hidden truths about the baron. For all the high drama, the reader never feels fully privy to Ida or May, but Cezair-Thompson otherwise succeeds magnificently in evoking a world distant in both time and place. (Oct.)
Tropical paradise holds a star's secrets
In the mid-1940s, a storm-wrecked boat carrying the film star Errol Flynn washed up on a small island off the Jamaican shore. Flynn fell in love with the island and spent much of the last years of his life there, hosting glamorous parties, swimming off the beautiful beaches and, rumor had it, getting involved with younger and younger women. In The Pirate's Daughter, Margaret Cezair-Thompson uses this footnote in the life of an icon to spin a tough and tender story about Jamaica's people and politics.
May is the illegitimate daughter of Errol Flynn, born to Flynn and Ida Joseph, a local mixed-race girl whose father, Eli, is instrumental in helping Flynn settle and build on Navy Island. Flynn takes no responsibility for his daughterin fact, he only meets her onceand offers no financial or emotional support to Ida. May grows up feeling that she doesn't belong to the emerging black nation that Jamaica is becoming or to the white society that her father represents. Ida, after leaving Jamaica to find work in New York, returns married to a successful European man, and leads the sophisticated life that she dreamed of as a child. Both women strive to find themselves in a world of shifting political and social allegiances as Jamaica struggles towards independence.
Although Cezair-Thompson's depiction of the aging star may be on target, Flynn is more of a device than a charactera way for the author to include anecdotes of the rich and famous in her retelling of the island's complicated history. In addition, Flynn is another in the line of white men involved with but not married to black women that re-occur in this narrative. Even the Jamaican landscape itself is a character, lovingly described as a place where geographic splendor remains constant amidst centuries of piracy, slavery, immigration and political upheaval.
Trinadadian author V.S. Naipaul once wrote of the West Indies that "the history of these islands can never be satisfactorily told." With a bold eye that doesn't flinch at depicting the wide spectrum of Jamaican society and a keen ear for language and dialect, Cezair-Thompson makes an emotional connection to the island's history and its people.