"The Coconut Latitudes" is an award-winning memoir about a childhood in paradise, a journey into unexpected misery, and a twisted path to redemption and truth. Leaving a successful career in the U.S., a father makes the fateful decision to settle his wife and two young daughters on an isolated beach in the Dominican Republic. He plants ten thousand coconut seedlings 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 dictator. Against a backdrop of shimmering palms and kaleidoscope sunsets, a crisis causes the already fragile family to implode. "The Coconut Latitudes" is a haunting, lyrical memoir of surviving a reality far from the envisioned Eden, the terrible cost of keeping secrets, and the transformative power of truth and love.
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 2014 in Expat Books" by The Displaced Nation, an international blog for creative expatriates worldwide. She is also a contributor to a new collection "The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey" (2016). In addition, she is featured in "Wandering in Andalusia: The Soul of Southern Spain", a travel anthology in the award-winning series published by Wanderland Writers. (Publish date: December 2016). Other essays, articles, and poems have appeared in literary journals, and travel magazines.
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 good use of the lure of paradise. The cover art is light and breezy, evoking the tropics in the lush and fun-loving way of a Hope and Crosby road picture. The full title of the work, The Coconut Latitudes: Secrets, Storms and Survival in the Caribbean, in its saucy italic script, plays very much to a 1960s family frolic. With such packaging comes an expectation, no doubt similar to the one Jesse and Emily Gardner possessed when they bundled their young daughters up and set sail south; staking that Caribbean island claim. And, alongside the Gardners, we are headed for a harsh reality check.
It becomes very clear very quickly that this is a memoir of trauma. Much like Darin Strauss's Half a Life and David Stuart MacLean's The Answer to the Riddle is Me, the narrative is ensnared by the author's internal catastrophe - which means there's less a story being told in these pages than a truth wrestling to be freed. Something horrendous happened on that island, in this family, between these people. Gardner's hesitancies make that plain. A careful read will be a hard one; all the clues will lie in the absences.
For instance, while daughter Rita reports that Jesse left his successful engineering job for a life farming coconuts in a hurricane-tossed country run by a brutal dictator, she will not be explaining what drove him to do this or what appealed to her mother enough to assume the role of tropical drudge. We hear about her father's gin-soaked nights of familial terrorism, but there will be no inhabited re-enactment of those scenes. Emily's stunted ambivalence toward her daughters will be referenced, yet we will not be exploring that maternal dynamic. And when the worst happens, when the family suffers the most grievous loss any family might bear, we will be told about paralysis, repression, implosion - but from a distinct distance; the only proximity a severely traumatized mind can bear. One can wish for a fuller accounting of these experiences and more insight into the motivations of all involved, but Gardner can't give you what she hasn't got. Father, mother and sister do not exist in her psyche as human beings. They've been relegated through an ancient childhood fear to the status of agents of danger. This writing is the struggle to resurrect them; to restore their humanity and, in turn, heal herself. It's the hallmark of the trauma memoir: the textual mustering of courage, the elusive dance with the void.
Answers are few in books of this nature, and the tale inconclusive. Yet the strength it takes just to place the words on the page is something I've always felt should be supported. I can certainly support this.
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. Rita’s descriptions of the island, its inhabitants and its life are painted with a vivid brush through her 5 year old eyes. As Rita grows up, her story is full of heartbreak, love, loss, and reconciliation, and plays out to a backdrop of 1960s music, the Cuban crisis, Kennedy’s assassination and more. This is a truly memorable story on many levels. Rita uses metaphors throughout of hurricanes and water, turmoil, and the silent, temporary reprieve of the eye of the hurricane. A fascinating story and highly recommended.
“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 are spent with the author witnessing her father's alcohol-fueled rampages and watching her mother cower at his verbal abuses addressed mostly at the older daughter, Berta.
As a teenager, with her home-schooling over, the author is sent away to a boarding school in the United States. Because of the political situation in the Dominican Republic, the country is ruled by the ruthless dictator Rafael Trujillo, she’s not able to return home as planned. The author describes those days of uncertainty with such passion that we suffer alongside her. Perhaps because I too had lived in a country ruled by a dictator, and I too had longed to return to it when it was impossible to do so, her experience became mine, bringing tears to my eyes.
"The Coconut Latitudes" is a beautiful book filled with evocative language. When the author returns as an adult to the farm of her youth, we not only see the scenery, the “paisaje,” but the little girl who spent her days in that corner of the world trying to imagine a future of success that would eventually become hers. “The ‘finca’ blends in now with the rest, boundaries and color blurred by time and age.”
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 mood he’ll be in haunts Rita, almost daily during her childhood. Even her mother fears her own husband. “Mama will never talk back to Daddy,” Rita says. “Daddy turned red and raised his fist as if he was going to hit her, and she stopped, as if a switch turned off.” There is a strange sense of love and fear that lingers on during Rita’s childhood, and the strong bond that she has for her sister, Berta, whom she leans on for support. Her parents want the best for their daughters and work hard to send them to the U.S. to pursue their studies. We follow Rita as she attempts to adapt to her new life at boarding school and college in Florida, and as she starts dating. There are several dramatic events that keep the reader engaged, including an unexpected reunion at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed Rita Gardner’s memoir and found her descriptions incredibly visual; just like watching a movie
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 only from the parent’s culture and extended family, but forced to keep secrets from their friends when one family member disappears. There is no one they can turn to when their alcoholic father keeps them up late at night with angry rantings and irrational demands. In the morning he tells them they are a happy little family, lucky to live in paradise. Even their mother is unable to protect them or nurture them. This heartbreaking memoir may shock you at times, but the writing is straight-forward and compelling. You will root for her survival and be staggered by what a young girl manages to do.
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's experiences when they moved to the Caribbean island, but it was not pleasant. She was a young girl when her father quit his engineering job and decided buy a few hundred acres in the Dominican Republic and go into coconut farming. Maybe this wouldn't have been so bad, except the father was an alcoholic and it was the 1950's when political instability and fear ruled the island. I found myself weeping as her tale got progressively worse. I'd find myself thinking I was at a point where things would get better, and then WHAM, tragedy would strike again. I'm glad the author seems to have a happy life now. It just goes to show you how resilient the human spirit is. And I'm equally glad to have read this book. I did get the "childhood in the Dominican Republic" experience, and I also received the gift of a tale of personal triumph over terrible circumstances.
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 inner world of emotional turmoil. And the narrative, revolving around a terrible secret which the family is forced to keep, is as compelling as the language is seductive. I was hooked from page one. I look forward to a sequel.
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 career in the States and went to live "the simple life." The "simple life" means running a coconut plantation ("Cocoloco") and living in a small village with no electricity for many years, limited contact with other English speakers, and no formal schooling for Rita and her older sister Berta until they are in their teens.
The family must also be careful what they say for the Dominican Republic at this time is ruled by Rafael Trujillo, an iron-fisted dictator. He would not hesitate to kill those who defied him. A perfect example, mentioned in "The Coconut Latitudes" is the three Mirabal sisters, who supposedly died in a car crash. Everyone knew they had actually been murdered on the orders of Trujillo for working against him. (See "In the Time of the Butterflies" by Julia Alvarez.) It is a sad world indeed when children have to be warned against saying anything out of fear of reprisals, even death. Yet Rita and her family lived with this for many years, even after Trujillo's removal.
Rita's father is also an alcoholic, who becomes verbally (though not physically) abusive. He keeps telling his family they are living in paradise. After a while, I began to wonder if he was really trying to convince himself, rather than his wife and children, that he had made the right decision. It is to Ms Gardner's credit that he is not portrayed as a monster, but just a flawed human being like the rest of us.
I felt sorry for Berta, who is so often on the receiving end of her father's insults. While Rita, who is obviously her father's favorite, has her writing and her art, Berta has a harder time adjusting to life on her own. Of all the characters in the book, she was my favorite and the one I felt the most for.
This is a very moving book and one that I intend to share. Very recommended.
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 sixties, the book is beautifully written. You can practically hear the palm fronds rubbing against each other in the tropical breeze, and smell the rum on her father's breath as young Rita tries to figure out how to make herself unobtrusive so as not to awaken her father's rage. I spent half the book willing her mother to do something to protect her children, the other mentally cheering Rita on to recognize the power she had within herself. She's a likable and trustworthy narrator, tucking us into her pocket as she rides her bike all over the small village of Miches and roams the coconut plantation her father builds.
I look forward to seeing where Rita's creativity takes her next!
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.
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 away at high school boarding school when US troops entered the country to evacuate Americans. Her parents never left the island Because of the turmoil, her parents didn´t see her graduate from high school and she couldn´t return to the island. What is a girl of 18 to do? Fortunately, she had friends whose families let her stay with them.
This is more than a story of growing up on the island. It is a story of a family in turmoil. At all costs, they must "appear" to be the happy family regardless of the familial discord. She adored her father until he would start drinking rum in the evenings. The whole family would walk on eggshells to not disturb the father or else he would start his rants. Her sister went off to boarding school and came back the following summer pregnant. Her father disowned "the whore" and forced her to marry the boy. They all had to lie to neighbors telling them that Berta fell in love and is living happily in Florida. Berta later vanished leaving her husband and baby. Everyone presumed she was dead but did show up 6 years later in Arizona. Those missing years were a secret that Rita never learned what had happened.
This book is written beautifully. I liked her description of her first kiss: "just a flutter, like a butterfly landing and taking off". There are many comparisons with hurricanes. Living on the coast they experienced many storms and hurricanes. So too was her life on the finca (farm). Many times they lived like the eye of the storm where it is calm but at any minute the full blast of the storm would barrel down on the family.
Rita has many fears that would churn her stomach and make her sick. Unlike Breta, she didn´t like to swim too far in the sea because you couldn´t see the bottom. Life´s travails were similar; "swimming in murky water where I´m not sure where the bottom is".
Great read about a young girl trying to survive her family´s traumas.
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 wife and two young daughters there, built a prefab house in a remote village, and settled in. The country is under the thumb of a dictator hostile to the United States; the family is uprooted from its support networks; the father has quarreled with the only other English-speaking family that ever comes to the area. Have they landed in paradise or hell?
Gardner’s love for the place, described with spare eloquence, is tempered by fear, and the same could be said for her relationship with her family. I once read a novel in which the narrator refers to her husband, poignantly, as “the Man of Wrath.” It would be an apt label for Gardner’s father: the entire family waits with bated breath for his rage to erupt, and they can never trust his benign humors. It is a familiar story, but the isolation of their living situation raises him to an existential threat.
Disasters are inevitable, but still the specific events come as a series of surprises. The author does not hold back on depicting the price paid by each member of this unhappy family; nor does she sugar-coat the potential for redemption and recovery. Each step in the journey is conveyed in sharp, frank observations, and there is no perfect resolution to be had, no miraculous return to a paradise that never was. The reader is required to be an adult, to embrace the possible over the ideal.
This is a moving story, and one that touched many chords in my own experience even though its details are far removed from my life’s road. And what better can be said of a memoir?
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 beauty, the variable trade winds of island and family, the chubascos, swift rainstorms that batter them all. She writes (about saplings flooded away, p. 17) : “They never had a chance to take hold. If they had been older, the roots would have kept them from being torn out of the ground.”
I don’t know whether I appreciate most her unflinching honesty, colored with her poetic metaphors, or her ability to survive her parents’ abuse and neglect. Wrapped, trapped in the webs of secrets and falsehoods, Rita enters the mainland in adolescence encased in a shell that surely will defeat her.
Rita’s courage and curiosity, her sturdy intelligence are sometimes her only friends. Her perseverance to find real family, art forms that will express her depths, relationships that nourish, are poignant testaments to the strength of her soul.
Written in first person, present tense, Rita’s life feels like our own, even in its first line: “Before I am born…” Her alluring or tense chapter endings make it hard to put the book down, as in the end of chapter thirteen: “I forget (Joe) him entirely when summer brings shocks so big there is no room for anything else.” Witness the teen age Rita: “ I want the full feeling. I want something to fight or something to be protected from, and someone to protect me.(end of Chapter 14, p.81)”
The writer’s details about a person’s face, event or object are so faithfully rendered, we feel we know them: “ In Meches, layers of coconut fronds become roofs for houses, or are braided into baskets, and chair seats, and trunks are split into logs.(p 27)” The writer knows this place and takes this place with her. She had to walk through this water with knapsack on her head, had to boat through this water when her father’s irrational decisions to go in the dark could not be refused, had to manage this water through hurricanes and political unrest.
In the end it’s Rita holding her family together and at arm’s length in her young mind, in her wary tenderness toward them, her later adult compassion and forgiveness. We desperately want her to win. We will go with her until she does, and then are filled with tears, anger, fears, for what she has witnessed, bathed in understated language that binds us: “…when my sister and I were children, when laughter lit up our life, before numbness set in like fog.”
Get this book and you will sit, as I did, at its end, unable to think about anything else. Cocoloco continues to wash over me and makes me different from before.
Donna L. Emerson, author of “This Water,” “Body Rhymes,” “Wild Mercy,” and “Following Hay.”
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 by events that came to overshadow (perhaps even define) Gardner's story as well. Her sister, Berta...things got very hard for Berta. Gardner herself learned to shrink into the background -- do as you're told, don't make trouble, don't draw attention, don't.
Gardner's story unfolds piece by piece; she uncovers each element as she experienced it, letting the reader infer more. Although it's a page-turner, it sounds like such a difficult, confusing childhood. Take her fifteenth birthday -- in a reversal of roles, it is her father leaving out alcohol for the party guests; it is Gardner who hides the hard alcohol so nobody drinks it.
I'm leaving a lot out because this is a book best read without spoilers. The book ends with a number of unanswered questions, but in a way that feels fitting, given...well, everything. There is a great deal I wish I knew, but much of that also seems beside the point. It's a hell of a story within a hell of a book.
Also, a note: There are pictures at the beginning of most of the chapters, but I strongly recommend viewing them on the author's website as well, as the image quality is superior there.
I received a free copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway.
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 narcissistic father and her passive, defeated mother. Her richly told tale conveys a spark of compassion to the reader. If forgiveness can bloom for the Gardner family, then there is hope for us all.
Besides her gracious, accessible voice, her descriptions are colorful and engaging: “In the Dominican Republic the land curves up into mountains, slides down into ragged bays and undulating meadows. Roads slither like snakes, and even some hovels are decorated with trills of curving iron railings. Florida looks more like a geometry lesson. ” Or “Mrs. Porter opens the front door with a hug that smells like the apple pie she’s baking.”
If you find yourself in a sunny clime (or even a clime that is marginally more sunny than last winter was), take along this for a poignant, entertaining afternoon.
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 for days after I finished it, and I'll tell ya - it didn't take me long to finish it once I started. I couldn't put the book down.
I've been to the part of Dominican Republic where most of the story takes place, and the descriptions Ms. Gardner relays in the book are accurate to a tee. It takes a great writer to be able to take the reader where they might not have ever been.
I recommend this book to anyone, but it will really touch those who've had to soul-search their way out of a complex upbringing. It will touch you, and you won't stop thinking about it for days.
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 becomes expats starting their own coconut farm, which was interesting to learn about. However, her learning also involved dealing with an island under the control of a tyrant as well as an unpredictable father whose mood depended on how much he had to drink that night and a withdrawn mother just trying to cope. I read this book cover to cover, Ms. Gardner writes so well you can almost smell the ocean, feel the mud, and feel like you're right there with her. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and read it in one sitting.
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 lives for years. The author's tone is sincere and keeps one's interest without forcing it. Having lived in the Caribbean myself, I understand the deep attraction of island life and the difficulties of living in a culture so different from one's own. I am delighted to have won this book and will encourage friends to read it.
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 from the Dominican Republic, I can say that the historical background and the description of life in this Caribbean paradise are very accurately captured.
I definitely recommend this book but I warn the reader, this book can shake you to the core and can really make you rethink the depth of your own personal trauma and family conflicts.
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 the US to study and from then on the family is broken, even though an unexpected twist in events opens up for redemption.
Wonderfully told, with beautiful language, and much love, this book weaves a family portrait that I will be thinking about for a long time.
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 relationships and people, but overall this is a very enjoyable read! I would gladly read a sequel to this memoir that follows the author into adulthood in the U.S.
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 to anyone who grew up abroad, and those who enjoy exploring the murkiness of family ties.
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 school in the US. Thank you Rita Gardner for sharing your story.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.