Tag Archives: Jamaica

In which I read things: The Pirate’s Daughter, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

2 Oct

The Pirate's Daughter, paperback coverI was catching up with a friend last week and she said “so, Jules, what have you been reading lately?” This was not a question I planned to answer on the blog, since only one of the books I read in September was really historical, but then I realized an important counterargument, in the form of “hey, why the hell not?”

One of the books I read this month (the one that actually was an historical novel) was Margaret Cezair-Thompson’s The Pirate’s Daughter. In 1946, Errol Flynn comes to Jamaica, and this is the story of the women–well, and some men, but mostly women–whose lives he affects: primarily a woman named Ida, a preteen girl at the story’s beginning, with whom he later has an affair, and their illegitimate daughter, May.

This book is, in a lot of ways, not at all the kind of thing I usually read–multiple points of view, a sprawling story that sweeps across several decades in scope, and, heck, four out of every five books I read are young adult–but this was a wonderful story, beautifully written, and contains the one thing that will generally make me give something more of a chance, namely a lot of ladies, and ladies of color besides. It’s a story of women and race, women and inheritance, women and land. In writing her memoirs as an adult, May says:

It used to give me a ghostly feeling to hear stories about the days when men like Bligh and Admiral Nelson were in Jamaica. Not that they were ghostly but that I was, creeping about their big, conspicuous ruins. I’d feel ghostly too when I’d hear stories about my father. Because women like my mother, Sabine [a local ghost], the White Witch of Rosehall [a horror story], women like me, are usually heard of only in legends about haunted places. But it’s not a haunted house that I’ve inherited; it’s history.

In a LiveJournal post I linked to earlier, user Oyceter commented that the white man/woman of color pairing dynamic in what these people need is a honky stories plays out as “colonialism in miniature”; that idea is explored thoroughly here. The celebrated white man comes to Jamaica, loves it, but loves it as his vacation spot, not for what it actually is but for what it can offer him; he paints it as a charming, quaint little place and never even pays for his own meals (Ida’s father, his usual tour guide, pays for their dinners and drinks together). He loves it so much that he seduces a young woman from the island, then abandons her, and only meets their daughter once (at which point the child has no idea who he is). Colonialism is acted out in and upon the bodies of the characters, and May begins to come into her own and come to terms with her past against the backdrop of the political violence in Jamaica in the 1970s. Not entirely shocking, then, that The Pirate’s Daughter also contains one of the best descriptions of privilege I’ve ever read:

“I can’t tolerate men who are careless about other people’s lives. […] There was no malice in what Errol did to people, just thoughtless galloping over everyone, like a princeling.”

Basically this is one of the best books I’ve read in ages and I really cannot recommend it enough.