Haiti. A poor country rich in courage, strength and love. As these four women are about to discover.
Charlie, the rootless daughter of American missionaries, now working as a hairdresser in Northern California. But the repercussions of a traumatic childhood far from home have left her struggling for her way in life.
Bea, Charlie’s eccentric grandmother, who is convinced a reunion with her estranged mother will help Charlie heal.
Lizbeth, a Texas widow who has never strayed too far from home. She is on a daunting journey into the unknown, searching for the grandchild she never knew existed.
And Senzey, a young Haitian mother dealing with a lifetime of love and loss, who shows them the true meaning of bravery.
Together they venture through the teeming, colorful streets of Port-au-Prince, into the worlds of do-gooders doing more harm than good, Vodou practitioners, artists, activists, and everyday Haitian men and women determined to survive against all odds.
For Charlie, Bea, Lizbeth and Senzey, life will never be the same again . . .
Deborah Rodriguez’s Island on the Edge of the World is a charming novel about family, destiny and home.
In the chaotic streets of Haiti, four women come together to recover what they’ve lost. They’re all searching for a person — someone missing from their family. For Charlie, it’s her mother April. Bea, Charlie’s grandmother, is along for the search. For Senzey and Lizbeth, they’re searching for a lost baby, kidnapped in Haiti in a cruel scheme to capture and sell as many unwanted babies as possible.
A common thread that runs through Deborah’s work is setting, and a strong sense of location — more often than not, the setting feels like a character in the book. I’ve never been to Haiti, but I could imagine every street mentioned, every smell described, email location visited. Capturing setting authentically in a far-away location is not always done effectively, but I think Deborah did a marvellous job of bringing her readers to a vibrant Haiti and making them feel at home.
“As she left behind the hillsides stacked with little houses climbing halfway to the sky, she found herself surrounded by green. But even this far from the city centre, life was led on the streets — vendors chatting as they crouched near their wares, children skipping and running and just plain goofing around, and always plenty of people walking to and fro.”
All four women in the book are resilient — strong and reassured, willing to do anything to find what they’re looking for. They won’t take no for an answer, and they fight for the people they love. There is much to like about Charlie, Bea, Lizbeth and Senzey and readers will find themselves drawn to these four women as they progress through the novel.
Structurally, the novel moves around so that we learn as much there is to know about these four women. We come to learn how they came to be in their situation, but we also really come to understand their emotions — their doubts, fears, moments of joy, and their hopes for their future and their family’s future.
“In retrospect, Charlie could recognise the signs. She and her mother had adapted quickly to life in the jungle, learning the language and making friends. They were easily embraced by the community.”
There is much to learn about Haiti and Haitian women — the clothes and the lifestyle but also the poverty and what that forces young women to do to survive. Island on the Edge of the World highlights the current state of affairs in Haiti. Whilst Haitian people are full of spirit and hope that they can rebuild after the earthquake, there is a lot of corruption and poverty in their society and it’s going to take a long time to fix that.
There are some gorgeous, inviting recipes at the end of the book for any readers who fashion themselves a good chef.
A marvellous adventure of a novel, suitable for lovers of fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction and romance. The streets of Haiti will invite you in, and the characters will keep you there.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Island on the Edge of the World
Penguin Random House Publishers
AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH DEBORAH RODRIGUEZ
Many of your works have been inspired by — or based on — your own personal experiences abroad. What is it like translating something real world, into something on a page?
It feels magical, almost like time traveling. I get to experience a place over and over again. But sometimes it can be hard reliving my own personal drama in a public way. It can be draining and emotionally exhausting and, very often, tears are shed. But I use that emotion while working. I think it really helps in taking the readers along on the journey. I often draw on my experiences of living in Afghanistan and Mexico, because both countries are difficult, complex, and remarkable in their own way. They’ve prepared me for the challenge of absorbing a culture and accurately sharing the experience with others.
Location and setting are such dominant elements of all your works. How do you research or prepare ahead of writing, to ensure you capture the true essence of that place?
First, I read anything and everything I can get my hands on, both fiction and non-fiction. I speak to as many people from that place as I can. When I feel that the basic storyline is ready, I travel to the location and try to trace the steps of my characters. While I am in a location I make as many contacts as possible so that while I am writing, I can ask questions. I record interviews, and I am continually taking photos and shooting video. By the time I’m done, I am completely exhausted, and need a vacation. I never go alone on these trips, because it is too difficult to remember everything yourself. I always need back-up. I work hard at forming relationships with drivers, guides, hotel managers, vendors, and often tell them parts of the story to see if it feels authentic to them. I listen to anyone and everyone willing to tell me their story.
You have written both memoir and fiction. Do you have a preference?
The upside with memoir is that you know the ending, but writing the truth can get complicated. I have been sitting on a personal story that I would love to turn into another memoir, but the timing isn’t right yet, and I do worry that it could get messy. That said, many of my ideas for fiction start with a true story. I love to start with the real story and use every bit of my imagination to birth a novel I’m not answering your question very well. I think the answer is that I enjoy both.
Are you able to give us some insight into your writing and editing processes?
I always start by verbalizing different versions of the the story. I am very visual, and when I tell a story out loud, I see it like I’m watching a movie. I figure if you can’t tell the story, it will be challenging to write the story. I always work with someone, going over and over the different storylines for weeks, sometimes months on end, just talking and working through plots and characters. Then comes the massive amount of research on the location and culture. Lots of interviews with people from the area. The story gets put into a synopsis, and then the travel to the site begins. After that it’s writing and rewriting. I rely on a great group of people who lend their sharp eyes to my drafts, and offer amazingly useful criticism and suggestions. It truly takes a village. Finally, a complete draft is sent to the editor, and the process continues. I think the best way to describe writing a book is that it’s like combing tangled hair. You start at the top, get partway there, start over again, smooth out the snarls, and do it over and over again until it is all neat and tidy.
If there was an aspect of the writing process that you could skip, what would it be?
The very beginning, when you are still searching for the correct storyline and getting to know your characters. You know that there is a story there somewhere, but you still only have fragments of it. You know that if you keep pushing forward, you’ll eventually have that breakthrough. But it can be frustrating if it takes a long time, especially when you are on a deadline.
What are you working on next?
I am so excited about the book I am working on now. This book is set in Morocco and my two favorite characters, Charlie and Bea, will be returning. They travel to Morocco together to help a friend. Basically, it’s a modern tale of forbidden love, set in a country where family honor and tribal culture still rule.