Beach reads about the Caribbean
March 21, 2007 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Anybody know any good novels either about or a good chunk of which is set in the Caribbean?

Michner is an obvious choice, but that's been read. A friend wants suggestions for reading about the Caribbean while he's in vacationing Nevis, and is open to pretty much anything, but does want it to be fiction or at least especially compelling narrative non-fiction. Thanks as always.
posted by Heminator to Writing & Language (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"The Rum Diary," Hunter S. Thompson. (it's a novel, not journalism)
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:29 AM on March 21, 2007

Most pirate novels? Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, for sure.
posted by humblepigeon at 10:39 AM on March 21, 2007

I enjoyed "Cereus Blooms at Night" by Shani Mootoo.

I didn't enjoy "At the Full and Change of the Moon" by Dionne Brand, but it seems rather popular for a Caribbean narrative novel.

There's a book called "Krik? Krak!" (by Edwidge Danticat) which is a bunch of short stories that connect halfway through the book. It's fairly interesting, and a quick read.
posted by gursky at 10:43 AM on March 21, 2007

If he's poetically inclined, Derek Walcott's Omeros is a Homeric-reminiscent epic set in the Caribbean. It won a nobel prize in 92. Its quite good.
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:43 AM on March 21, 2007

Off the top of my pointy little head:

*"The Mosquito Coast" by Paul Theroux.
(Wondrous book, pathetic movie.)

*"A Small Place" by Jamaica Kincaid.
(Surprisingly good, given that her New Yorker essays were often unabidable.)

*"Texaco" by Chamiseau(sp?).
(One big glorious, fascinating time-shifting creole mess.)
posted by Dizzy at 10:44 AM on March 21, 2007

If he's on vacation, presumably something fairly light. How about A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie? It's a fairly good one, as Christie goes. Even better is the "sequel" Nemesis, but it's totally unrelated to the Caribbean.
posted by DU at 10:46 AM on March 21, 2007

Tim Powers, On Stranger Tides
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2007

Joan Didion, The Last Thing He Wanted
posted by brundlefly at 11:03 AM on March 21, 2007

Tar Baby--Toni Morrison

Wide Sargasso Sea--Jean Rhys
posted by OmieWise at 11:04 AM on March 21, 2007

Nalo Hopkinson? Speculative fiction - never read her myself but she comes highly recommended.
posted by clavicle at 11:05 AM on March 21, 2007

"Bodily Harm" by Margaret Atwood and "A Book of Common Prayer" by Joan Didion are both set in fictitious Caribbean countries undergoing political upheaval and involve women undergoing personal upheaval. Both are excellent.

"Love In the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is set on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
posted by hwestiii at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2007

'Bodily Harm' by Margaret Atwood
posted by Cosine at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2007

Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks
posted by Methylviolet at 11:14 AM on March 21, 2007

Ian Fleming lived in Jamaica, and parts of various of his James Bond novels take place there, and definitely qualify as beach reading.

Terry McMillan's How Stella Got Her Groove Back is also set partly in Jamaica (while it's not great literature, knowing how the author's own groove turned out adds that ironic twist to the story).

Moving up the literary foodchain, Russell Banks has at least two novels set fully or partly there, as well: Rule of the Bone and The Book of Jamaica. Rule of the Bone is one of my favorite Banks novels, very readable and fun.

Google is your friend: there are a lot of online sources for this; this one looked comprehensive at first glance.
posted by Forktine at 11:16 AM on March 21, 2007

Bay Of Souls by Robert Stone is trashy good - sex, voodoo, political intrigue, etc..
posted by loosemouth at 11:19 AM on March 21, 2007

Andrea Levy has a few books set (partially) in Jamaica.
posted by nekton at 11:35 AM on March 21, 2007

v.s. naipaul is from trinidad and writes about it often. "a way in the world" is interesting, but he's written other books set there. ("house for mr. biswas" is one)

"the feast of the goat" by mario vargas llosa is about the trujillo regime in the dominican republic. (fiction)

"the wide sargasso sea" might be a little girly, but it's a prequel to "jane eyre," telling the story of rochester's first wife in jamaica.

colombia has a caribbean coast, so anything by marquez would be good.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:38 AM on March 21, 2007

I'd second Fleming - As I remember it Dr. No is one of the Bond novels that is actually good, and is the major Jamaican one.
posted by Artw at 11:45 AM on March 21, 2007

Cayman Cowboys is a good read if they're into Scuba diving.
posted by mister e at 11:48 AM on March 21, 2007

Also by Edwidge Danticat - "Breath Eyes Memory." Bounces between Haiti and NYC, so it's approachable for Americans but personal and genuine.

I'll second Derek Walcott as he's a personal favorite, but I'd recommend something lighter than his masterpiece "Omeros." That, to me, was along the lines of a West-Indian "Ulysses," so not exactly beach reading. Regarding the Nobel prize, he should have won it before then, but Omeros was a nice capstone for the committee to recognize. The Star-Apple Kingdom, I think, is a small collection with "The Schooner Flight." one of the greatest mid-length english-language poems of the century. Any of his collections, really, are magnificent.

A "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by GGMarquez (if I recall correctly) is a zippy read, with a bit of mystery, and alot of culture.
posted by conch soup at 11:54 AM on March 21, 2007

I third Fleming and Dr. No.
posted by mattbucher at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2007

PS- Since your friend wil be in Nevis, Derek Walcott is a strong choice since the vast majority of his poetry is about the Lesser Antilles, unlike many of the authors so far mentioned. It's a minor differentiation, but St. Kitt's is full-on West Indian territory, and Haitian, Cuban and Jamaican authors will primarily be writing about those places, whereas Walcott discusses pretty much every island south of St Kitt's, down to Trinidad.
posted by conch soup at 11:58 AM on March 21, 2007

clavicle: I have read Nalo Hopkinson, and she's pretty fantastic. It's smart genre writing, so I imagine her stuff would be pretty ideal vacation reading. Also:

Ladies of the Night by Althea Prince is short stories set mostly in Antigua, which are kind of depressing, but good.

Ooh, and Dany Laferriere's Dining With the Dictator, a memoir about Haiti, still has post-its from when I read it for class. It was a fantastic book, but I should warn you (and your friend I guess) that it does feature the phrase "The room turned into an enormous, living uterus," which, if that appeals, you will like it, and if it doesn't, you probably may not.
posted by SoftRain at 12:12 PM on March 21, 2007

"A high wind in Jamaica" by Richard Hughes.
posted by fire&wings at 12:21 PM on March 21, 2007

I enjoyed
Adios, Hemingway
by Leonardo Padura Fuentes, which is set i Cuba.
posted by rpn at 1:16 PM on March 21, 2007

"Far Tortuga" by Peter Mattheissen.
posted by Lockjaw at 1:48 PM on March 21, 2007

Islands in The Stream, by Ernest Hemingway (one of my all-time favorites).

In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez. It's about the Mirabal sisters' political role in the Dominican Republic under the Trujillo dictatorship.
posted by emd3737 at 1:49 PM on March 21, 2007

While Don't Stop The Carnival is a classic of the genre, it's extremely dated, and really has not held up very well. It's not a bad read, but I found it to be very hard to get past the aspects of 50s/60s NY society culture that are woven throughout the tale.

These, on the other hand are brilliant, and not as fictional:
An Embarrassment of Mangoes - Ann Vanderhoof
A Trip to the Beach - Melinda Blanchard
posted by toxic at 1:50 PM on March 21, 2007

Port Mungo by Patrick McGrath.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:35 PM on March 21, 2007

I really hate to creep in here with this suggestion, but...

Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels are a more contemporary Ian Flemming sort of thing, ("a sort of blend of Indiana Jones, MacGyver and James Bond") but based around the fictional NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) instead of MI5, so hey! you get cool subs and fast cars! They are fantatic, relaxing vacation reads if you want to be entertained and not tax your brain on the beach.

They pretty much all romp through the Caribbean at some point, but from what I remember, Cyclops and Trojan Odyssy are both actually set there.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:42 PM on March 21, 2007

I second DarlingBri. Cussler's books are cartoonish, escapist fun. In one of his novels, he describes a female character as having "an hour glass figure, with an extra 15 minutes added for good measure."

Wasn't exactly sure how those 15 mins. were distributed.
posted by brundlefly at 3:52 PM on March 21, 2007

Second for Far Tortuga. It's hard at first to get into the style and the dialect, but when you do, you really do. It was a very surreal experience, reading that book. My only regret was that I spaced it out over a month while reading 5 or so other books, it would have been better all in one go I think.
posted by zhivota at 5:46 PM on March 21, 2007

"Gone Bamboo" by Anthony Bourdain. Yes, the chef. He also writes crime novels, and this one is his best, IMHO.
posted by ljshapiro at 6:08 PM on March 21, 2007

Havana Bay, in which Inspector Arkady Renko, hero of the Gorky Park series, goes to Cuba on his own nickel ... er, kopek ... to investigate the death of an old colleague from Moscow.

While we're on the subject of Cuba, A Simple Havana Melody is set partly in Europe in the 1930s and partly in Cuba in the 1900s-1920s. This Cuba is a lush sentimental memory, in contrast to the run-down hellhole that Renko lands in.
posted by Quietgal at 8:16 PM on March 21, 2007

Seconding Love in the Time of Cholera. Amazing scenery, characters, even plot.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 9:00 PM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: WOW. Thank you all so much. I'd mark best answers, but for the most part they're all very good. Thank God for Ask MeFi...
posted by Heminator at 9:06 PM on March 21, 2007

Bob Shacochis' Easy in the Islands (stories) and Swimming in the Volcano.
posted by brujita at 9:52 PM on March 21, 2007

Caribbean by James A. Michener
posted by Tarrama at 10:10 PM on March 21, 2007

The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories edited by Stewart Brown and John Wickham.

Patrick Chamoiseau, Solibo Magnificent

These suggestions come from Nick, who did his New College thesis on the establishment of a literature native to the Caribbean. He laughed at the suggestion of Omeros as beach reading, unless the reader is academically inclined.
posted by bilabial at 3:20 PM on March 22, 2007

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