"The Pirate's Daughter"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple DEC 26, 2007)
"She was the descendant of staunch voyagers from Africa, China, Europe, and Lebanon; they had all survived their partings. So would she."
May Flynn, the daughter of actor Errol Flynn and a beautiful Jamaican girl, has always wondered about her roots. Brought up by her mother and grandfather, and, for four years, a foster family, May is clever and tough from a young age. Always an outsider, she could pass for white, though she is not part of the white world of her father and maternal grandfather. Not part of the black world, either, though she considers herself "colored," she is often mocked by her dark Jamaican peers. Frequently alone, she enjoys keeping journals, filling them with stories of pirates, inspired by the films she sees at the local cinema and starring Errol Flynn.
As May discovers more about her mother and her mother's life before, during, and after her birth, she creates the story of her own life, which ultimately becomes this novel. Filled with flashbacks, which give life to May's past and that of her mother and grandparents, the novel emphasizes the closeness of Jamaican families and their values. May's maternal great-grandmother Oni lives in the mountains, where she believes in spells, spirits, and the supernatural and acts as a "bush doctor." Close to the earth, she refuses to come to town, requiring her family to come to her. May's grandfather Eli, part white and part Lebanese, is the center of her family. Hard-working and entrepreneurial, Eli is devoted to Esme, May's grandmother, remaining true to her, though he is never able to marry her. May's mother Ida, daughter of Esme and Eli, is the most beautiful girl on the island, even when she is only thirteen.
When Errol Flynn's yacht gets blown ashore at Port Antonio during a 1946 hurricane, Eli is "Johnny-on-the-spot," arriving in his taxi and becoming so helpful that Flynn regards him as his "long lost brother." Soon Eli is acting as Flynn's social secretary, driver, guide, confidant, and real estate broker. Flynn loves Jamaica and its easy way of life, finding it a welcome contrast to the pressures of Hollywood, where he faces legal charges related to his affairs with underage teenage girls. He soon buys a ranch and a hotel in Jamaica, along with Navy Island, a small island one mile off the coast. There he builds Bella Vista, the palatial home where he entertains Marilyn Monroe, Noel Coward, Tony Curtis, Peter Finch, Truman Capote, and a host of other Hollywood stars.
Ida is only thirteen when she first meets Flynn, making an indelible impression when she convinces him that a superhot scotch-bonnet pepper is a plum. Over the next three years, as Flynn continues to spend lengthy vacations on Jamaica, she comes to know him much better. When she is sixteen, she gives birth to his child, May, and the life of her entire family changes.
The second part of the novel follows the travails of Ida as she tries to support her family, find work in New York, and hold to her values. At the same time, three-year-old May, living with a foster family in Jamaica for the four years her mother is in New York and South America, must protect herself against beatings, a kidnapping, and even the threat of rape. Ida's return to the island and the changes she introduces into May's life parallel some of the changes occurring on the island itself. Cuban refugees swarm to the island to escape Castro's takeover. An economic downturn and, eventually, Jamaica's own independence from the British lead to competing political movements, violence, and atrocity over the next twenty years.
Filled with colorful characters, the patina of Hollywood, and the violence of political change, the novel is a fast-paced melodrama and family saga. The author's style is clean and simple as she traces lives across generations, providing enough description to enable the reader to create vibrant pictures of the action without bogging down the narrative, which speeds along. Illness, death, financial disaster, smuggling, ghost stories, rumors of hidden treasure, a mysterious grave, drug addiction, thwarted love, May-December romances, shootings, ancient maps, and a secret identity are among the many elements which keep the action moving—and keep the reader in a constant state of anticipation. Author Margaret Cezair-Thompson tells the story for its own sake, not to illustrate complex themes. The Pirate's Daughter is an entertainment filled with non-stop excitement, and sure to appeal to a wide audience.
- Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Pirate's Daughter at Unbridled Books
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Official website for Margaret Cezair-Thompson
- Book Page review of The True History of Paradise
- The New York Times review of The True History of Paradise
- Reading Guide for The Pirate's Daughter
- Pop Matters review of The Pirate's Daughter
- The Independent review of The Pirate's Daughter
- Guardian Unlimited review of The Pirate's Daughter
- The New York Times review of The Pirate's Daughter
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About the Author:
Margaret Cezair-Thompson was born in Jamaica, West Indies and grew up in a family of "two sisters, one brother, divorced yet devoted parents, wonderful aunts, uncles, cousins, memorable dogs and cats." They lived in the suburbs of Kingston and St. Andrew and, while it was a primarily urban-suburban experience, they maintained a close connection to the rural areas of Jamaica through relatives and close friends. She left when she was nineteen to attend Barnard College in New York. She received her B. A. in English from Barnard College/Columbia University and her Ph.D. in English from the City University of New York where she wrote her dissertation on V.S. Naipaul.
Her short fiction, essays, and articles have been published in Callaloo, the Washington Post, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Graham House Review, and Elle. Her screenplay, Photo Finish, about a Jamaican-American athlete, was sold to Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.
Cezair-Thompson teaches literature and creative writing at Wellesley College and resides in Massachusetts.