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The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival in the Caribbean

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  156 ratings  ·  61 reviews
A father makes the fateful decision to leave a successful career in the US behind and move to an isolated beach in the Dominican Republic. He plants ten thousand coconut seedlings, transplants his wife and two young daughters to a small village, and declares they are the luckiest people alive. In reality, the family is in the path of hurricanes and in the grip of a brutal ...more
Paperback, 207 pages
Published September 16th 2014 by She Writes Press
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Jan 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-biography
I was directed to The Coconut Latitudes by a friend here on Goodreads who knew of my interest in memoir. I had not heard of the book. It's a tiny thing; two hundred pages of a childhood spent on a coconut plantation in the Dominican Republic. Yet for all its unassuming heft, the story's made a substantial impact on its readership - its ratings are impressively high, the reviews on this site as glowing as any an author might hope to receive. Lucky Rita. Curious me.

Gardner and her publishers make
Sonia Marsh
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rita Gardner has done a superb job of capturing the vivid details of her childhood, in a remote part of the Dominican Republic, where she lived from the age of six weeks with her sister and parents.
She sketches her family's day-to-day life on her father’s coconut farm with such precision that I can smell the rum on her father’s breath after 5 p.m., and hear Rita’s heart pulsing as she waits for his permission to go to bed at night.

Her father’s drinking, and the fear of not knowing what kind of
Cinda MacKinnon
Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: multicultural
Coconut Latitudes – A haunting and honest memoir I wanted to read because it was about a girl who had grown up in Latin America like myself. But this is more than an interesting story about an expat; it chronicles a difficult upbringing (a la Mosquito Coast or Don't Let's Go to the Dogs...). . Rita Gardner’s father gave up a secure life to settle on a remote, but beautiful beach in the Dominican Republic during a volatile time in the island’s history. The two young daughters are isolated not onl ...more
Lisa Wright
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Growing up on a Caribbean island in the 1950s and 60s with no electricity, surrounded by coconut palms, friends and family, and a devoted dog, sounds idyllic. But the Dominican Republic hides darker secrets. This island paradise has a deadly dictator whose enemies disappear in convenient accidents; hurricanes are a constant threat and Rita Gardner has personal fears, much closer to home.
Coconut Latitudes tells of an American family’s move to the Dominican republic to manage a coconut plantation.
Sometimes what seems to be Paradise is actually the opposite. I picked this book up for two reasons. First, it had the word "coconut" in the title - which helped to meet a book I needed for the Geocache Challenge I'm working on. Second, most books with "coconut" in the title were either mysteries or chick-lit, and I'm not a fan of either. I assumed this was a travel memoir of Ms. Gardner's time in the Dominican Republic.

Well, I was in for a shocker. It was a memoir, and it did include the author
Jul 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rita Gardner’s memoir The Coconut Latitudes, is a gorgeous, unputdownable read, surely literature at its best. A rich portrait of a family buffeted from within and without as they struggle to make a life on a Caribbean island, ‘like a bunch of coconuts washed up on the beach’, trying to establish roots in the sandy soil. That the author is also a visual artist becomes clear as she paints evocative images with words, describing the natural environment as delicately and acutely as she does her inn ...more
Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: true-stories, women
I was provided with a free copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for a review.

I've been reading some heavy-duty history volumes lately, so I thought I would have a change with something lighter and more personal (and shorter!). "The Coconut Latitudes" is the story of Rita M Gardner's early life in the small village of Miches in the Dominican Republic. She is five years old when her family settles there. Her father, an engineer, turned his back on a successful c
Lorenzo Martinez
“The Coconut Latitudes” by Rita M. Gardner is an emotional journey into the life of the author whose father moves the family to a small village in the Dominican Republic. Ms. Gardner, five at the time of the relocation, spends lonely days being home-schooled at the farm her father has inherited (“Cocoloco”) and only occasionally interacts with other English-speaking children brought over by visiting friends.

The“Paradise” the father has promised the family turns out to be far from it. Evenings ar
Nancy Kho
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Having met Rita Gardner at a literary conference last year, I expected her memoir, The Coconut Latitudes, to read like she presents: lovely, calm, peaceful. Holy cow - after ripping through the memoir of her childhood as youngest daughter in the only American family in a tiny village in the Dominican Republic, in a home where love and good intentions were muffled by alcoholism, rage, and the keeping of secrets, I'm astounded at Rita's resiliency.

Set during the Trujillo dictatorship in the early
Anne Powers
Nov 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I lack the bravery and the words to write about this writing. This pure, spare, direct, oh so honest writing.

All I can tell you is that, for a few highly anticipated reading sessions, I went to this island. I felt the wind on my face and sand under my feet. I knew these children and this cowed woman, this tortured man and his demons.

I highly recommend you go there too.

Although I had this book for a few years, once I started reading it, it was a quick and enjoyable read.

In 1946, Rita´s parents brought her and her older sister Berta to live on a coconut farm and the small town nearby, Miches, in the Dominican Republic. She grew up there during the Trujillo o she winessed (or heard about) the killing of de Galindez (1956), Fidel Castro´s Cuba invading Dominican Republic (1959), the death of the Maribal sisters (1960), and Trujillo´s assassination (1961). She was
Abigail Bok
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don’t read a lot of memoir but am glad I was pushed to read this one (lent to me by a friend). Gardner had an unusual childhood, and a lot of the tension of the story depends on the tension inherent in the ordinary, universal feelings of childhood and adolescence as they are felt by a child trapped in a situation that is anything but ordinary.

When the author was a small child, her father gave up an engineering job to start a coconut plantation in the Dominican Republic. He abruptly moved his w
Donna L.
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Review of “The Coconut Latitudes”
Author: Rita Gardner, SHEWRITESPRESS, 2014

Rita Gardner looks deeply into the ocean of her childhood and sees all the way to the bottom. Taken to the Dominican Republic as an infant, surrounded by another culture but told to stay separate, parents emotionally unable to nurture, older sister subject to the same submission, Rita’s isolation is total. Yet with the wide-open eyes of the child, she sees everything. Her keen sensibilities take in the island’s stunning b
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The picture Gardner's father painted for friends and strangers alike was one of idyll: a family living together, working together, against an aquamarine ocean; self-sustaining and able to weather any storms the Dominican Republic threw at them.

And they did weather those storms -- but to Gardner, it was the storms within the family that had much more devastating, long-lasting impacts. Her father was angry when he drank, and he drank often. Her mother gradually collapsed in on herself, spurred on
Ann Evans
May 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Coconut Latitudes, by Rita Gardner (She Writes Press 2014) is a poignant and tragic tale which takes place in the exotic village of Miches in the Dominican Republic. It took me a single afternoon to read, as Gardner enfolded me in her consistently gracious voice which begins telling the tale when she is 4 and expands into greater scope and understanding as she becomes an adult.

Gardner has lived a rich story of a life, including unfathomable indignities and abuse at the hands of her narcissi
Kimberly Paternoster
I'm a connoisseur of adventure & travel novels, so I was particularly excited about delving into Ms. Gardner's book about her childhood in the Dominican Republic. What I wasn't expecting was the depth of emotion that I felt reading about what was a difficult childhood taking place in paradise. The book made me think, and left me with some lingering observations - what happened to that person, and what made him like that, and how did things turn out for her ultimately? I thought about this book f ...more
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I received a copy of The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival in the Caribbean from goodreads in exchange for an honest review.

I love travel novels that involve people's experiences growing up and living abroad. Having lived in the British Virgin Islands for a year, I was excited to read about Ms. Gardner's experiences growing up on a small island in the Dominican. This book took me by total surprise, her childhood growing up was not as idyllic as her surroundings. Her family become
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Through Goodreads Giveaways, I was a lucky winner of Rita Gardner's memoir, a beautifully descriptive and detailed look into her troubled childhood growing up in the Dominican Republic. She paints a vivid picture of life as a foreigner living on an island in the Caribbean. Ms. Gardner writes with an easy style and fills her story with vivid pictures of her offbeat, flawed life with an alcoholic father, a mother who shrinks in the face of this adversity, and a sister who disappears from their liv ...more
Paula Gonzalez
Mar 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't even know how to begin this review. I'm still under the haunting effects of this book. I have never been a big fan of the memoir genre but this book threatens to change all that for me.

The Coconut Latitudes is such a haunting, well-told look into the life of a young american girl and her family as they move to a remote coastal town in the Dominican Republic, in the very heart of the Caribbean. This is the shocking portrayal of a how deceiving other people's lives can truly be.

Being fro
Lene Fogelberg
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Compelling memoir in exotic setting!

Rita Gardner's "The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms, and Survival in the Caribbean" is a powerful, gripping and heartbreaking story told beautifully, telling of the author's childhood in the Dominican Republic. It is full of adventure and beauty in the exotic setting, but also fear for a father who is an alcoholic and turns increasingly abusive towards his family. Young Rita goes through a devastating trauma when her older sister and only sibling is sent to
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, first-reads
This review is based on an A.R.C. that I received from FirstReads.

Gardner's memoir is heartfelt and well-written. She paints a wonderful picture of the Dominican Republic, making an unfamiliar place relate-able. Reading about life on in island ruled by a dictator in the 1950s-60s was fascinating, and while she had a difficult upbringing and faced tragedy at times, the book is not depressing, nor does Gardner write with self-pity. The epilogue leaves some questions as to the fate of some relation
Janey Skinner
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Coconut Latitudes is a moving memoir about coming of age under two tyrants – the dictator Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and the author’s father, a capricious man with manic cycles of fury. The portrait of village life is lyrical and enticing, and the story of Rita Gardner finding her inner strength is inspiring. Family secrets and unexpected twists of fate enliven the narrative, which is told in a very straightforward yet often heartbreaking manner. This book would be especially moving ...more
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
What a childhood! This is another memoir worth reading.
Growing up in Paradise in the Dominican Republic sounds wonderful: coconut plantation, sunsets, beautiful beaches. But when you throw in home schooling,a country run by a stern dictator, health care available by crossing the mountains over barely passable roads, a rum soaked father who won't let his daughters go to bed at night until he passes out. Then, there is the education not provided her beloved sister before she is sent to boarding sc
Judith Ward
Jul 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Rita's tale, though sparsely worded, is intense in the telling. Her childhood with her sister Berta, the descriptions of the coconut plantation and the workers in the Dominican Republic in the 1960's, as well as the machinations of her parents, left an indelible impression on me.

Judith Ward
Cindy Ostroff
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Personal memoirs seem to appear daily but Coconut Latitudes really delivers. This is one compelling read and I couldn't put it down. Rita Gardner has an amazing, personal story to tell and she does so with grace and beauty, revealing dark secrets that many would not share. This is a true look at life in a foreign land in a family that has more than its share of secrets. I highly recommend it!
Lynn Geske-morgan
Had I been able to finish the book in one sitting, I would have done so - it was that good. What a story, all the more incredible for being true. Rita's story of growing up in the Dominican Republic during a time of political repression and upheaval is matched only by the dynamics of her own family. The writing is fast-paced and keeps the reader engaged throughout. I hope that this is the first book of many more to come; this is an author with a lot to offer. ...more
Elizabeth Sundstrom
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I finished reading the book this morning over coffee and Kleenex. It was a profound story and I'm so grateful Rita Gardner found the fortitude and courage to write it. Some stories remain in our hearts and thoughts long after the book is finished. For me, this will be one of them. It touched me on many levels and I was especially moved by her complete lack of self-pity when recounting the most painful of subjects. ...more
It almost feels wrong to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book when Rita's family life was so full of turmoil, but the details she has shared provide a rich portrait of her family. With the Dominican Republic making its way into the news this summer, I appreciated a glimpse at the politics of the 50s and 60s.

I received this from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.
Dec 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Coconut Latitudes is a fully engaging, deeply moving memoir. I loved the vivid, sparse prose that brings the reader into the inner crevices of the loyalties and betrayals within a family. The rich backdrop of the Dominican Republic and the traumatic events of Gardner’s childhood make this book a compelling read.
Claudia Randel
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I went through the journey with the author as I read each word. Gardner depicts with words her surroundings and her inner struggle, immersing me in her two worlds. It is a vivid tale of loss, desertion and courage.
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Rita Gardner grew up on her expatriate family’s coconut farm in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. In 2015, her memoir "The Coconut Latitudes" was awarded Gold Medals from two national publishing organizations in the category of Memoir. (The 2015 Benjamin Franklin Awards sponsored by IBPA, and the 2015 Next Generation Indie Awards.) It was also listed in "Best of 20 ...more

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