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The Pirate's Daughter: A Novelby Margaret Cezair-Thompson
2008 Essence Literary Award — Best Fiction
Synopses & Reviews
In 1946, a storm-wrecked boat carrying Hollywood's most famous swashbuckler arrived dramatically and accidentally in Jamaica, and the glamorous world of 1940s Hollywood converged with that of a small West Indian society. After a long and storied career on the silver screen, Errol Flynn spent much of the last years of his life on a small island off of Jamaica, throwing parties and sleeping with increasingly younger girls. Based on those years, The Pirate's Daughter is the story of Ida, a local girl who has an affair with Flynn that produces a daughter, May, who meets her father but once.
Spanning two gererations of women whose destinies become inextricably linked with the Holly wood star, The Pirate's Daughter tells the provocative history of a vanished era, of uncommon kinships, compelling attachments, betrayal, and atonement in a paradisal, tropical setting. May, the illegitimate daughter of Errol Flynn, belongs neither to the emerging black nation of Jamaica nor to the white, expatriate society on the island. Her mother, Ida, romantically adventurous, dreams of a bigger more glamorous world than that of her small seaside town. For them both, trying to find the right way to live their lives is about discovering who they are and where they truly belong.
As adept with Jamaican vernacular as she is at revealing the internal machinations of a fading and bloated matinee idol, in this culturally sensitive and delightful novel, Margaret Cezair-Thompson weaves a saga of a mother and daughter finding their way in a nation struggling to rise to the challenge of independence.
"Cezair-Thompson conjures the tragic glamour of golden age Hollywood against the backdrop of lusty, turbulent Jamaica in her dual generational coming-of-age saga. Ida Joseph is 13 years old when Errol Flynn is nearly shipwrecked off the coast of her hometown of Port Antonio in 1946. Flynn instantly loves Jamaica and, eager to find a refuge from stateside scandal, purchases an island across from the port. Navy Island becomes the setting for his glittering parties, movie projects and affair with Ida in her senior year of high school. Flynn refuses to take responsibility for the resulting child, May, and after trying to make a go of it in Jamaica, Ida leaves May and heads to New York City, where she marries a wealthy baron friend of Flynn's who purchases the island after Flynn dies. May grows to adulthood on Navy Island, develops something more than a crush on a married family friend 40 years her senior and indulges in drugs and free love. Jamaica's tumultuous progression toward self-governance — with the violent chaos it unleashes on Navy Island — reveals certain hidden truths about the baron. For all the high drama, the reader never feels fully privy to Ida or May, but Cezair-Thompson otherwise succeeds magnificently in evoking a world distant in both time and place." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Weep not for May Josephine Flynn. In Margaret Cezair-Thompson's engaging novel, May endures a galleon's worth of troubles, including tangled intrigue among louche, expatriate Brits, a home invasion by drug-addled thugs and the crude observations of a bisexual Frenchman who can't resist her resemblance to Errol Flynn, May's wayward, movie star father. May comes... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) through sad but wiser, poised to thrive on the north coast of Jamaica, the ancestral island home of her beautiful mother, Ida, and the adopted refuge of the scalawag Flynn. Cezair-Thompson, author of 'The True History of Paradise' and a creative writing instructor at Wellesley College, brings a smart, lilting voice and a sharp, quirky perspective to a tried-and-true literary formula, the sweeping historical epic. By taking the classic question familiar to all storytellers — 'What if?' — and marrying it to the classic advice of fiction-writing teachers — 'Write what you know' — Cezair-Thompson unravels a surprising yarn that is rich, salty and ultimately satisfying. What if Flynn had fathered a Jamaican child during his years on the West Indian island? And what if that daughter decided to write a pirate story that draws on her life among treasure hunters, restless ghosts, proper Jamaican ladies and randy old Englishmen? Cezair-Thompson convincingly threads May's pirate tale, dubbed 'Treasure Cove,' throughout the novel, with passages that sound as if they were scratched out by Anne Bonny or any other notorious buccaneers who trafficked the Caribbean in the 18th century. 'I shall now proceed to furnish you with the details of my misfortunes as they occurred with no exaggeration,' writes May in 'Treasure Cove.' But as the multi-generational drama of 'The Pirate's Daughter' sails along, her own life ultimately outstrips any imagined tales of pirate peril and derring-do. As a Jamaican, Cezair-Thompson grew up hearing elders reminisce about Flynn and other white film stars and British and German expats who kept homes on Jamaica. It was said that Flynn — upon his first arrival in 1946 at the tiny northern province of Port Antonio — was so handsome that 'fainting became epidemic among the young women of the island whenever they glimpsed' him, she writes. The swashbuckling star of dozens of Hollywood films — including the pirate blockbusters 'The Sea Hawk' and 'Captain Blood' — Flynn had stumbled into acting after a misspent youth. In 'The Pirate's Daughter,' he quickly cuts a wide swath across Port Antonio. Enlisting the help of Eli Joseph, the taxi driver who picks him up after his yacht wrecks outside the harbor, Flynn decides to build a home on a nearby mini-island of wide beaches and clear streams. As the Mediterranean-style estate takes shape, Flynn is revealed to be a complicated, exasperating fellow: rum-loving and freewheeling as he charms his way into Joseph's circle of family and friends. But he is also oblivious, selfish and heartless, racking up debt and impregnating the Jamaican man's 16-year-old daughter, Ida. Flynn also conquers a bevy of actresses and female tourists, marries, divorces and marries again, all while continuously fretting over two statutory rape charges he had narrowly slipped out of in the United States. He is soon joined in Port Antonio by an old friend, the mysterious Baron Karl Von Ausberg, who will come to loom large in the lives of Ida and May. Set in the golden years between the end of World War II and the onset of the political and economic upheavals that began under Prime Minister Michael Manley in the 1970s, 'The Pirate's Daughter' sparkles with characters real and imagined: Flynn dominates the first half of the story, and is fleetingly joined by the likes of Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. They all are rendered in vivid, three-dimensional portrayals, effortlessly fleshed out to such a degree that I found myself casting the imagined characters as long-gone Hollywood actors: Fredric March as Nigel Fletcher, the British novelist who befriends Ida and her family; Claire Trevor as Denise Fletcher, Nigel's crass, whiskey-swilling wife; and the burly, inscrutable Walter Slezak as Baron Von Ausberg. Matters of race and class are weighty but presented here without commentary. Several scenes involving near-rapes, date rapes and grown men seducing young teens are stomach-turning in their intensity. But Cezair-Thompson allows her characters to work through — or not — the larger social and political implications of such violence. Likewise, discussions and descriptions of how Jamaica's formerly efficient, relatively harmonious economic landscape devolved over time into one of vast inequality and hardship are layered into the last third of the story with seamless power. Beyond the Hollywood stardust that floats over the proceedings, it is Cezair-Thompson's deft evocation of the beauty and unpredictability of Jamaica, its topography and its people, that raises 'The Pirate's Daughter' to a level far above the bodice-ripping historic epic. " Reviewed by Amy Alexander, whose reviews appear monthly in The Washington Post Style Section, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Cezair-Thompson deftly walks the high wire between literary and pop fiction, melding romance and politics in this novel that reimagines Errol Flynn's sojourn in Jamaica near the end of his career." Chauncey Mabe, the National Book Critics Circle's Most Recommended list, winter 2008
"Cezair-Thompson mixes Jamaican history with 1950s glamour to tell the story of two young women of mixed race trying to find their place in a rapidly changing country....The Pirate's Daughter provides the kind of full-bodied yarn ideal for readers looking to be swept away." The Christian Science Monitor
"[C]onjures the collision of old Hollywood glamour and freshly minted West Indian society....
"[A] lush, lovely fairy tale filled with obvious love for the characters, history, and place, rendered in faultless prose and patois. The feel of this novel is of Gone with the Wind in Jamaica...full to the bursting with romantic adventure and epic scope." School Library Journal
"The sensual descriptions, engaging dialect and captivating characters make The Pirate's Daughter a book that will stay with me. It is an elegantly written saga of love and loss, betrayal and survival, but most of all it is a glimpse at the fragile nature of the human heart." BookReporter.com
"The Pirate's Daughter is the best kind of middle-brow fiction, neither pandering nor elitist, and not least of its charms is the desire to visit Jamaica that it will inspire in many of its readers." South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"[Cezair-Thompson is] best at juxtaposing Flynn's imported glamour with the realities of Jamaica and at suggesting there's more than one kind of buried treasure....The Pirate's Daughter offers plenty of serious passion and escape." USA Today
After a long and storied career on the silver screen, Errol Flynn spends much of the last years of his life on a small island off of Jamaica. Based on those years, this novel tells the story a local girl whose affair with Flynn produces a daughter, as it delves into the provocative history of a vanished era.
About the Author
Margaret Cezair-Thompson is the author of a widely acclaimed previous novel The True History of Paradise. Born in Jamaica, West Indies, she teaches literature and creative writing at Wellesley College.
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