The Dragonfly Sea

Knopf. Mar. 2019. 512p. ISBN 9780451494047. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780451494054. F
OrangeReviewStarIn the 1400s, Chinese admiral Zheng He lost a fleet of ships to the Indian Ocean. Some sailors found safe harbor on Pate Island just off the coast of Kenya. From this fact, Owuor weaves elements of a haunting coming-of-age novel, a seductive romance, and a fascinating historical. Free-spirited Ayaana, child of single mother Munir, suffers bullying at school. Although she excels in class, it's the sea that offers solace. She's most at home among the mangroves, shipbuilders, and fishermen and eventually in the company of elder Muhidin, a lonely soul reborn as a father figure through Ayaana's love. Her mix of African skin and Asian eyes marks Ayaana as a "Descendant," a living symbol of the bonds between East and West and ultimately a recipient of a scholarship for study in China. On her travels, she will meet two men, the hypnotic ship captain Lai Jin and authoritative fellow student Koray Terzioglu, who will vie for her soul. Lyrical, luminous language evokes the beauty of Pate Island, the poetic muezzin's call, even the scent of rosewater that wafts from each page.
VERDICT Caine Prize winner Owuor follows up her powerful debut, Dust, with a gentler but no less stunning novel of language, lineage, love, and family, those we're born into and those that we create.
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