Even in Paradise, by Elizabeth Nunez.
Even in Paradise, by Elizabeth Nunez. Akashic Books (2016), 320 pages.
Another engaging novel by an accomplished author who retells the story of King Lear in a Caribbean landscape with racial tensions playing out alongside the classic narrative of greed and parent/child relations.
Elizabeth Nunez was raised in Trinidad and came to the United States as a young adult to work in the publishing industry . She has told her own story in an autobiography and in her novels, always teasing out the various ways in which race shapes and complicates Caribbean society and individuals. For her racism is never about black and white but about effects of the range of prejudice around and among people of color. I have read and enjoyed several of her books including Prospero’s Daughter, an earlier retelling of a Shakespearean story with the addition of colonization and racism.
Even in Paradise is about an elderly and wealthy American, Peter Duckworth, a white man who loves the Caribbean and builds a mansion in a beautiful location in Barbados overlooking the sea, a place that seems like paradise. Tensions swirl, however, around the father and his three daughters and the men they are marrying. The two older daughters, Glynis and Rebecca, are beautiful and materialistic. When their father gives them large pieces of land, they want more. The youngest daughter is the apple of his eye, innocent and caring, but she loses her land portion because she will not promise her father to love him more than a future husband. The story is told by Emile, a young man from Trinidad who loves the youngest daughter, Corinne. His friend, Albert, is engaged to Glynis.
The narrative begins in Trinidad, the home of Emile and Albert, and the place where Duckworth made his wealth. Then the story moves to Jamaica where the young men are finishing college and then to Barbados, where Duckworth has created his own version of paradise. Nunez carefully documents the difference between the islands and their distinctive cultures. Race is also a key factor in the plot. Emile is the black-skinned son of a prominent doctor and a woman whose ancestor is partly French. Albert is the son of wealthy Lebanese and one of the issues is whether or not he is acceptable to the while Duckworths. Douglas, who just married Rebecca, has no tolerance or respect for “Arabs,” including Lebanese, or for blacks.
Like other of Nunez’s books, Even Paradise is structured with interesting and layered plots, but what I like best is her exquisite language detailing Caribbean landscapes and people. Her depiction of skin color is precise and hints at the combinations that make the Caribbean unique. I strongly recommend this book, especially to those who love Caribbean stories.
Thanks to Akashic Books for publishing another fine book and for sending me a copy to review.
See my reviews of other books by Nunez, a favorite author of mine.