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Prospero's Daughter: A Novel Hardcover – February 28, 2006
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Nunez (Bruised Hibiscus; Grace) critiques colonialist assumptions about race and class in this ambitious reworking of The Tempest, set in her native Trinidad in the early 1960s. Dr. Peter Gardner (the Prospero figure) arrives on the island with his baby daughter after a botched medical experiment in England made him an outlaw. The novel's Caliban is Carlos, a mixed-race orphan whose house on an outlying island the doctor steals. Gardner teaches the boy biology, astronomy, music—"an exclusively European education," Carlos later reflects—but his natural brilliance far surpasses anything the doctor can impart. Inevitably, Carlos and Gardner's daughter, Virginia (Miranda), fall in love; the doctor, in a paroxysm of rage at the thought of a sexual union between his daughter and a dark-skinned man, accuses Carlos of attempted rape. As the criminal charge is investigated, Nunez reveals Gardner to be the real criminal—not only toward Carlos, but also toward his native servant, Ariana (Ariel), and Virginia herself. With its strong themes and dramatic ironies, this story should speak for itself; Nunez, however, overexplains her material, forecasting plot developments and leaning, at times, toward didacticism. But while her portrait of demonic scientist Gardner remains superficial, readers will find her love story—which has a refreshingly happy ending—very sensitively told. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Through one family's unique circumstances, the always-eloquent Nunez invokes larger themes of race, class, and colonialism. In the late 1950s, mad scientist Peter Gardner flees England to escape charges that he experimented on his patients. He and his young daughter, Virginia, settle on an isolated leper colony off the coast of Trinidad. They soon take over the house of a mixed-race orphan, Carlos, who was left in the care of a dying housekeeper. Gardner imposes a strict regimen on the household; trumpets the superiority of the white race; alternately treats Carlos as a slave and as an experiment by educating him about music, literature, and science; and devotes extraordinary amounts of time to cultivating hybrid flowers. His daughter, Virginia, responds to Carlos'great kindness and patience, and their abiding friendship, carried out in secret, blossoms into a love affair that threatens Gardner's worldview and puts the couple in danger. Although the enthralling story line loses some power in the final section, Nunez has crafted a beautiful, layered novel that echoes both The Tempest and Heart of Darkness. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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I don't usually leave reviews of books on Amazon, but I want to warn anyone reading this book that the content involves a white, incestuous father who sexually preys upon his daughter and regularly abuses and rapes the black woman he enslaves after colonizing the island. Between the main character and the police office who is heavily involved in the plot, this book is rife with racist remarks and language.
To be clear, this book was written by a black woman and much of the racism, etc. is a plot device deployed for highly specific literary and social commentary purposes, but for me the writing and content was far too triggering to deal with, not to mention it takes a compassionate and skilled professor/teacher to handle this class discussions that this book will cause. Unfortunately, my professor was incapable of doing that, which resulted in a slew of inappropriate and deeply traumatizing commentary made by the class.
Nunez drew some plot elements from the Tempest. Although Shakespeare's play unwinds in the Mediterranean, readers may see hints of the West Indies, suggested by Strachey's 1610 report of the shipwreck of the Sea Venture near Bermuda. Shakespeare's island is a brave new world, full of enchantment. The lead role, Prospero, was duke of Milan. Betrayed by his brother, Prospero is banished to an island with his daughter, Miranda. They find the uncultured Caliban (whose name suggests "cannibal" or the "Carib" Indian tribe), son of a witch, and Ariel, a sprite that was imprisoned in a tree by the witch. Ariel becomes Prospero's ethereal servant when he frees her. Caliban teaches Prospero how to survive on the island. In repayment Prospero educates Caliban. When Caliban makes sexual advances toward Miranda, Prospero punishes him. The play's theme is redemption: Prospero reconciles with his brother and Miranda marries his brother's son.
Nunez' counterpart to Prospero is Peter Gardner, a mad genius who arrives on the island with his sweet daughter Virginia, fleeing prosecution for conducting medical experiments on people. A good-hearted native, Carlos Codrington (Caliban) is heir to an island estate. Ariana, a servant, lives on the estate with Carlos and his family. At first offering to help, Peter moves into the house and then takes over. Peter educates Carlos. Revealed as a bully, Peter remodels the estate after his own european taste. His rapacious sexual cravings are aimed at the submissive Ariana. Carlos and Virginia fall innocently in love. Enraged by the interracial affair, Peter falsely accuses Carlos of rape, tortures him, and calls in the colonial police. Although the police suspect Carlos and act to protect Virginia's reputation, the truth comes out and the lovers are united. The villainy, frustrated lovers, and happy ending impart a touch of melodrama.
Nunez combines the West Indies first-name "Carlos" with a British last-name, "Codrington." The town Codrington was established in 1666 in the country of Antigua and Barbuda and is the location of a slave rebellion that took place in 1741. "Prospero's Daughter" is less an adaptation of Shakespeare, and more a vigorous criticism of racism in the West Indies. Nunez lived in the West Indies and I see her book as a tale of social justice. Carlos is the central character who embodies the growth of West Indies independence as British influence wanes.
Staged in the 1960's, Prospero's Daughter opens with an investigation of an attempted rape of Virginia Gardner, reported by her father, Dr. Peter Gardner. As the investigation progresses, the police uncover a repulsive secret that exposes the truth behind the alleged rape and ironically parallels the historical sins of the colonizers and social unrest of the day (Trinidad's quest for independence from British rule). Nunez also folds in the rich history of Trinidad and its inhabitants when retracing the deteriorating relationship between the colonizers and the colonized. She cleverly divides the book into three sections to allow the reader to gain altering views and perspectives from Peter, Carlos, and Virginia on the series of events lea! ding up to the alleged rape.
Paralleling the play, Peter's arrival on Carlo's island home in the aftermath of a deadly storm is symbolic that a dark and destructive force has arrived. Peter steals the house by outwardly lying and squatting on the property Carlos inherited from his parents. He spews insults upon Carlos's deceased parents memory (an unmarried interracial couple), administers punishments as self-imposed `master' of the manor and batters young Carlos and Ariana's self-esteem, innocence and dignity by subtly administering psychological, physical and verbal attacks reinforcing negative stereotypes surrounding their mental inferiority, lower socia! l class and their "natural/savage" behavior. Dr. Gardner relents a bit when he decides to experiment on using his rationale - to "civilize" - Carlos (it is his duty as an Englishman to attempt to do so), but his warped thinking only exacerbates Carlo's fury over the years. Dr. Gardner's self-imposed exile on the island also fails miserably and leads to unforgivable lasciviousness and an unexpected, clandestined love affair.
This novel is filled with so many pedagogical and cultural facets that this reviewer can not do the book justice. Although it started a bit slow, the writing was such that I was pulled in deeper - constantly highlighting passages and scribbling in the margins along the way. It caused me to pause and give thought to many of the themes and the masterful handling of parallels to the original work, to modern day events and historical and current social attitudes. I was thoroughly entertained, educated, angered and appalled. This was my first time reading Ms. Nunez and I will definitely read her other works. I highly recommend it to those who can appreciate "literary" pieces steeped in history and culture. It is well done and well written!
Reviewed by Phyllis
Nubian Circle Book Club
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This book will give you nightmares and/or ruin your plans to cruise the West Indies, or the...Read more