Carin Makuz and I “met” when we both enrolled in the online Humber School for Writers Creative Writing Programme, offered by Humber College in Toronto. That was 2006 and I was living on Bequia at the time, so I was able to study online from a great distance. Carin was living just outside of Toronto. We kept in touch with each other, as many students did, and have since continued to do, in that particular class, and I eventually met Carin in person, a number of times, in fact, and even made a “whistle stop” once while taking the train back from Kingston to Toronto. Carin met me at the train station and waited with me for the connecting GO Train to arrive so I could then continue on my way. What fun that visit was! Carin also made the trip north to Minden when we held a literary salon at the home of Michael Fay. At that salon, there were several other authors in attendance: Bruce Hunter, Frank Beltrano, Timothy Phillips. I’ve promoted all of them, and Michael, as part of the Authors-Readers International series on my blog. And Carin accompanied me (drove me there, actually, after dining together in a local restaurant) to a talk and reading that was being given at the local library by none other than Gail Bowen! (Also promoted on A-RI!)
Carin as well had the absolutely brilliant idea of beginning The Litter I See Project, which I promoted on my Reading Recommendations blog. She had invited me to take part in this project and I was very pleased to be included, especially since it was all in aid of Frontier College and literacy instruction.
So we continue to chat (by email) every now and again, although we haven’t seen one another in person in a few years now. (I’m too ensconced in the trailer while in Canada during the summer months!) But what started out as a quick email conversation at the beginning of the new year – Carin had finished reading my second novel and sent me a link to the “not-a-review” she posted to her blog – turned into a discussion about island life. Then … the back and forth questions and answers began, and comparisons of our both having lived on small Caribbean islands, and comparisons of my story to other books, and, and, and … we ended up with the following piece that Carin offered to write up for me to post here; not so much a review of the novel as an explanation of what struck her as significant about her reading of my book, and why my experiences on Bequia resonated with her own living on a different small Caribbean island. (And yes, Carin, that was definitely you I was thinking about when, in the story, Tex talks about a Canadian woman whose name is spelled the same way as yours!)
I so enjoyed the book, Susan, not the least for how it tapped into my own memories of living in the Caribbean in ’91/’92. I don’t recall too much of the expat lifestyle when we were there, but I may have missed it, or maybe it wasn’t as ‘rife’ yet. P was working with one of the hotels so we got to know many of the locals (most of whom came to our wedding). We didn’t make friends with many of the other ‘imports’… I remember thinking how odd most of them seemed, like they were just there for the money and the privileged Jimmy Buffet lifestyle; they seemed to be missing the point that this opportunity could give them, to understand local customs, rather than impose their own. But no one seemed very interested in island culture, food, or getting to know the local residents. Given that, it’s easy to see how divisions would be created. Not to mention the residents resenting the fact that the best jobs were often given to (white) ‘imports’. That was one of the difficulties for me when we lived there… being seen as ‘one of those’. Once we got to know the local residents, it was better, and that stigma fell away, but not with everyone. Still a certain amount of animosity from locals, for which I don’t blame them.
You captured so well that attitude of newbies trying to change the very thing that brought them to the island in the first place. Can imagine it’s even worse now with gentrification and displacement of people’s culture as if it’s just another commodity. How can this create anything but animosity? How wonderful that you’ve been there long enough to be known for who you are, as someone who respects the island way of life.
We went back to the island a few years ago for our anniversary. I was reluctant because I had a feeling it would have changed due to gentrification, etc., and I didn’t want to see it. Turns out much was still charming and familiar, but there was a lot different too … more villas where there were none before and a totally different vibe ‘in town’, ie. the harbour shops (selling very different items than before; before being mostly basic necessities for locals and only a very few things like postcards or souvenirs). Restaurants that were casual had been renovated and were now upscale … that was a big change. Very different feeling. Can imagine there was a lot more behind the scenes that I didn’t notice, given that I was there only a week and seeing with the eyes of a visitor.
One memory from when we lived there … P was working late on xmas eve and I was sitting outside on our patio in the pitch dark, under the stars when, from the valley below, came the sound of a single trumpet playing “Silent Night” and then a few other carols. A simple strain of music, not from a party, but likely just someone sitting outside (who would have a trumpet?). Then they stopped. Not another sound all night. I thought of that when we were there a few years ago and couldn’t imagine it happening now. Too many other sounds have taken over. The energy feels different.
Anyway, all of that to say One Woman’s Island was an absolutely lovely trip back to the Caribbean in the 90’s and to how I remember it. The story is compelling on many levels, but that was certainly an added dimension for me.
I think it’s brilliant that you’re writing about all this in your novels, Susan. As you say, for people who think it’s all paradise … an eye-opener. And so much more respectful to fully embrace reality while still finding the charm within, which of course I know you do.
Thank you again, Carin! Both for understanding what I’m trying to do with this Bequia Perspectives series and for the effect that I now know my writing has had on at least one reader! This is, after all, the main reason we write … to have an effect on readers and possibly even elicit a response.