An enthralling debut collection from a singular Caribbean voice
For a leper, many things are impossible, and many other things are easily done. Babalao Chuck said he could fly to the other side of the island and peek at the nuns bathing. And when a man with no hands claims that he can fly, you listen.
The inhabitants of an island walk into the sea. A man passes a jail cell's window, shouldering a wooden cross. And in the international shop of coffins, a story repeats itself, pointing toward an inevitable tragedy. If the facts of these stories are sometimes fantastical, the situations they describe are complex and all too real.
Lyrical, lush, and haunting, the prose shimmers in this nuanced debut, set mostly in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Part oral history, part postcolonial narrative, How to Escape from a Leper Colony is ultimately a loving portrait of a wholly unique place. Like Gabriel García Márquez, Edwidge Danticat, and Maryse Condé before her, Tiphanie Yanique has crafted a book that is heartbreaking, hilarious, magical, and mesmerizing. An unforgettable collection.
The effects of colonialism throb in Yanique's vivid debut collection. The chilling title story is set in 1939, when the Trinidadian island of Chacachacare was still used as a leper colony; the narrator, a 14-year-old orphan with leprosy, befriends a curious boy her age, Lazaro, whose mother was murdered there when he was a baby, and whose troubled relationship with the nuns leads him to a terrible retribution. "The Bridge Stories" are elucidating snapshots of islanders struggling to carve out lives for themselves on St. Thomas and elsewhere amid an exploitative tourist economy. Yanique frequently dips into rich, fanciful vernacular, such as in "Street Man," a beautiful, sad glimpse at a doomed love affair between a college student and a St. Croix local. In the affecting novella, "International Shop of Coffins," Yanique depicts characters of mixed African/Creole/Indian descent torn between the white and island worlds in all their complexity and conflictedness. A smattering of dark humor leavens the tense narratives as Yanique penetrates the perils and pleasures of lives lived outside resort walls.