Friday, April 6, 2018
Published June 2017 by The Unnamed Press
Source: my pdf copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review
At a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation, Myrna works as a maid by day; by night she trespasses on the resort’s overgrown inland property, secretly excavating the plantation ruins the locals refuse to acknowledge. Myrna’s mother has stopped speaking and her friends are focused on surviving the present, but Myrna is drawn to Cruffey Island’s violent past. With the arrival of Mrs. Manion, a wealthy African-American, also comes new information about the history of the slave-owner’s estate and tensions finally erupt between the resort and the local island community.
Suffused with the sun-drenched beauty of the Caribbean, Fingerprints of Previous Owners is a powerful novel of hope and recovery in the wake of devastating trauma. In her soulful and timely debut, Entel explores what it means to colonize and be colonized, to trespass and be trespassed upon, to be wounded and to heal.
I don't usually include the parts of the publisher's summary that are like that last paragraph. I prefer not to have the publisher try to sell you on the wonders of a book but to do that (or not, as the case may be) myself. But I have just finished this book and it's time to write the review so it can be posted in the morning and I find myself almost speechless.
When Lisa, of TLC Book Tours, first emailed about this book this is the summary she gave: "This is a literary fiction title/coming of age story set at a Caribbean resort atop a former slave plantation." And that was all it took for me to agree to read it for review. And then I forgot all about it (seriously, I completely forgot I needed to get it read and missed my first review date). So when I finally picked it up, I had entirely forgotten what it was about. And, once again, that was a good thing because this book completely took me by surprise and washed over me with its pain in a way that would not have happened if I'd gone into it with any expectations.
In these times when we talk so much about race relations and white privilege, this book seems more timely than ever. By looking at the long-reaching effects of slavery in a place where things have moved at a slower pace, where the ancestors of those slaves remained so close to the place where their forebears had suffered, Entel makes it that much easier to understand the ways in which those scars have been passed down. It is not a comfortable read. That's ok. We need to be made uncomfortable.
All that being said, I don't want to shortchange how well written this book is - Entel's focus is on Myrna but all of the inhabitants of Cruffey Island play vital parts in the novel and Entel allows each of them to tell their stories, slowly revealing truths that many of them had hidden from each other for decades. I could feel the heat of the days, clearly envision the trash washing up on the beaches, feel the sting of the haulback plants tearing at Myrna's skin as she works to uncover the past. I wanted to yell at the resort owners who go through their employees bags at the end of the day to make sure that not one penny has gone missing while they throw away mountains of perfectly good food. I wanted to hold Myrna's mother who has suffered so much. I wanted to be able to go to that island to help those people find a better life but then understood that those people wouldn't want my pity.
It makes me sad to think that I had never heard of this book until Lisa wrote me about it and I can only hope that being on this tour will get it into the hands of more people. For other opinions about the book, check out the full tour here.
Her short stories and essays have been published in Guernica, Joyland Magazine, The Madison Review, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, and elsewhere, and several have been shortlisted for awards from Glimmer Train, Southwest Review, and the Manchester Fiction Prize. Fingerprints of Previous Owners is her first novel.