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'Land of Love and Drowning': Yanique makes Virgin Islands seem vast in debut

| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 2:00 p.m.

For most of us, if we think about the U.S. Virgin Islands at all, we think just of tropical resorts and hurricanes. Tiphanie Yanique's debut novel, “Land of Love and Drowning,” is a deft argument that a rich and complicated culture is waiting just beyond the tourists, if we dare ask some uncomfortable questions about who we are and whom we love.

Yanique is herself from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and she draws on her family heritage to craft a saga that spans generations. She makes a handful of overlooked Caribbean islands seem like a vast and vital landscape.

In “Land of Love and Drowning,” three generations of beautiful Bradshaw women bewitch the men of St. Thomas through the islands' transfer to American control, World War II, segregation and the aftermath of a catastrophic hurricane. Secrets and jealousies shadow the relationship between two sisters and set them apart from other islanders as they all lurch through historical changes.

In less confident hands, “Land of Love and Drowning” would have faltered and failed to reconcile its blend of myth and modernity. Yanique has written the best kind of summer read — lurid, yet layered and literary.

Jennifer Kay is a staff writer for the Associated Press.

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