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July 01, 2014

A Beach Read

By Julian Sancton | Books

A Beach Read Land of Love and Drowning
Photo courtesy of Ken Goodman

If Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead) sounds like the title of a long-lost Gabriel García Márquez novel, the comparison is not entirely misleading. Like the work of the late Colombian master, Tiphanie Yanique’s entrancing debut seems to grow out of the soil in which it’s set, in this case the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her heroines are sisters born in the early 1900s, seeking love and status as their Caribbean homeland and its customs become subsumed into the American century. Yanique, who’s earned high praise for her short fiction, divides her time between Brooklyn and her native St. Thomas. Refreshingly, her prose has none of the navel-gazing, sexless glibness so common in Brooklyn literary circles, and instead exhibits a sultry musicality all its own. It’s no surprise to learn she played the steel pan as a child. Calypso echoes through the book, particularly “Rum and Coca-Cola.” (Not the Andrews Sisters’ hit, but the crackly, 1940s Lord Invader version they stole.) There’s plenty of sea, sex, sun and soap-operatic drama, which makes it a perfect summer book. It’s a beach read that’s actually about the beach, not as postcard paradise but as a limbo between land and ocean, known and unknown, myth and reality. —J.S.