Red Island House

S. & S. Audio. Apr. 2021. 11:59 hrs. ISBN 9781797118499. $39.99. F
While it is classified as a novel, the latest offering from Lee (Russian Journal) is more like a series of related, beautifully written vignettes centering on life and culture in Madagascar. Each vignette includes Shay, a Black literature professor who vacations in Madagascar with her husband Senna, a wealthy Italian executive who has built his dream house in the tropical island paradise. Senna revels in his role as lord of the manor, employing and using the Malagasy locals as it suits him. Shay, however, develops feelings of kinship with the Malagasy; over the years, she becomes more and more uncomfortable with what she sees as their exploitation at the hands of wealthy Europeans. She even comes to believe that she may be on the wrong side of Madagascar’s struggles with racism, classism, and colonialism—the very issues she explores as a scholar of African American literature. Bahni Turpin masterfully portrays Lee’s international cast of characters, and her versatile narration pulls together the many threads of the interconnected short stories. Her warm delivery and slow pacing also allow listeners to savor Lee’s lovely prose and contemplate the novel’s important issues.
VERDICT Listeners expecting a traditional novel may not have the patience for Lee’s nonlinear narrative, but those who do will long remember the characters that Lee and Turpin have brought to life.
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