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Prospero’s Daughter, by Elizabeth Nunez.

May 8, 2012

Prospero’s Daughter: A Novel, by Elizabeth Nunez. Ballantine Books (2006), Paperback, 336 pages.

A wonderful novel, set on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, exploring the impact of colonization on people’s relationships with each other.

The action in Prospro’s Daughter takes place in Trinidad in 1960, shortly before the island became independent of Great Britain. The political context of approaching independence creates the backdrop of the personal stories of individuals whose interactions reflect the personal meaning of colonization. The sophisticated abstractions which often characterize discussion of the meaning of colonization are woven into the fabric of Nunez’s characters and thus given a rare reality.

The book opens with a section narrated by a British magistrate, an Englishman who has come to the colony because it rewards him with luxury and status not possible for him back in England. He hates the sun, the heat and the native peoples of the island and dreams of returning “home.” When he is called to investigate a complaint by an Englishman that his daughter has been raped by a black man, he responds with predictable prejudice. Visiting the man’s isolated home, however, he discovers that the situation is far more complicated and ambiguous than he had suspected.

The next two sections of the book are narrated by Carlos, the son of a white Englishwoman and a black man, and by Virginia, the daughter whom the Englishman alleges has been raped. In these sections Nunez details the ways in which Prospero, as Carlos calls the Englishman, has essentially colonized those around him, taking what was theirs for his own and naming his own reality to suit his own needs and passions. For years he has ruled his own little world, but as Carlos and Virginia reach adolescence, that world begins to shatter. As gradually becomes apparent, Prospero is the villain of the book, but what Nunez does best is convey the ambivalence with which both Carlos and Virginia have responded to him. Initially too young to challenge his demands, each discovered that submission to him had its own rewards.

As evident from the title, Nunez has framed her narrative in the context of “The Tempest” hinting at universal themes found in it. Certainly she has written a novel about colonialism, but she also probes the question of how individuals dominate each other in many ways and the damage they can do. Yet Nunez is never preachy or moralistic. She is a novelist committed to description. Despite Prospero’s cruelty, her book is hopeful and enjoyable, implying what has seemed inevitable can change for the better. Even the British magistrate can loosen, if not lose, his prejudices.

Trinidad is home for Nunez. She grew up there before coming to the USA to teach. She describes its wildlife and its skies with loving detail, another quality which makes this book so pleasurable. As often with Caribbean authors, this book is shaped by a strong sense of place.

I recommend Prospero’s Daughters to all readers, because it is both delightful and insightful about a major issue of our time. Thanks to Eva for the glowing review which convinced me I wanted to read it.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2012 1:23 am

    Yay! I’m glad you found this one so worthwhile too. 😀


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