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1001 book reviews > Indigo by Marina Warner

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message 1: by Liz M (last edited Jul 21, 2018 09:46AM) (new) - added it

Liz M | 194 comments Why Indigo is included in the 1001 list: "Novelist, literary critic, and historian, Marina Warner is a chameleon of the pen and Indigo derives from all these aspects of her interest."

In present day London, a young Miranda has just lost her status as her grandfather's favorite, when his second marriage produces a late-life daughter, Xanthe. The grandfather is a direct descendant of the British man that colonized the Caribbean island of Liamuiga, and Miranda's creole father and grandfather grew up there. Miranda's parents have a stormy relationship, both with each other and with money, and she has grown up to be an unsettled artist, vaguely moral, looking for her place in the world. Xanthe, the golden-haired child never wanting for anything, and has grown up into a calculating ice princess untouched by love. Both feel a connection to the island of their ancestors, in no small part due to the the Caribbean nursemaid that emigrated with the family to England and raised both girls on island lore.

The second story takes place in the early 1600s and is the magically influenced story of the Tempest. Sycorax is a medicine woman who rescues Caliban from a drowned slave and adopts Ariel, a child abandoned in a failed settlement. Her powers and strange children cause tension with the villagers and so she makes a home on a remote part of the island, selling indigo and medicine and charms to the islanders. By chance, it is her home that is first discovered by a new wave of British colonizers and in the ensuing ambush, Sycorax is gravely injured. Ariel trades her freedom to nurse her adopted mother back to life and it is their imprisonment and reluctant assistance that allow this British settlement to be successful.

The novel is wonderfully conceived. The descriptions of the Caribbean island both in the early story line and through the stories told by the present-day nursemaid are completely captivating. Unfortunately, the present day narrative can't help but suffer in the comparison to the other story line, as the stakes for the characters are not life-and-death, but it does provide a counterpoint and cleverly portrays the long-term consequences of a brutal colonization.

message 2: by Diane (last edited Apr 28, 2019 08:14AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Diane | 1997 comments A book told in two story lines, one in present-day UK and one a historical retelling of Shakepeare's The Tempest, set in the Caribbean. The book explores themes of colonization, racism, and magic. Overall, it started strong, but lost steam for me a bit somewhere between the 1/2 and 2/3 mark. There was a lot of potential here, but in the end it was just okay. Oddly, I have read two other retellings of The Tempest written by Caribbean authors. Both were stronger stories in my opinion.

Amanda Dawn | 937 comments I gave this one 4 stars, which I rounded up from finding it in the 3.5-3.7 range. I did enjoy the Tempest homage, and I found the prose quite lyrical and fitting the ambiance of the pre-colonial Caribbean in a breezy naturalistic way. The imagery about the Island was very strong. The parts with Sycorax and her adoption of Ariel and Caliban were my favorite parts of the novel, especially with how they interpret the washing up of bodies from slave ships and the encroaching British imperialists.

I liked how the split story thematically plays into the idea of the continuing legacy of colonialism, and the complex relationships many people from colonial countries have towards their history. However, I was less enamored with those parts of the story just enjoyment/engagement wise.

Gail (gailifer) | 1241 comments The story is well described above so I will only comment on my reading of it.
I found the easy natural flow of Warner's writing and her depiction of both the colonial disfunction of the islands and the residual impact of that disfunction on a very messed up London family, to be engaging. I thought the story was most compelling while on the islands rather than in London but I appreciated that she didn't attempt to tie all her historical characters to a contemporary counterpart. I also appreciated that Warner reminded us of The Tempest but didn't feel the need to stick to the script. I felt that Miranda, a descendent of the colonizers and ultimately our main character, was someone that our author respected and liked, as was Serafine, the beloved nursemaid and representative in modern times of the island native's wisdom. I felt that the author missed with her attempt to build an allegorical game that represented the best of the "empire" which fell apart once the underlings became better athletes than their masters. One could not envision the game. It seemed to be a cross between cricket and lacrosse or Jai Alai but never was an adequate stand in for her purposes. Some of the secondary characters were depicted as rather stereotypical examples, (the good wife, the alcoholic wife) but nevertheless served to further the story. I particularly liked the way Warner worked with the theme of different perspectives on the same history. The original colonialist was adventurous, daring, courageous and wise OR an unfeeling, unseeing exploiter, who bludgeoned and molested in the name of sugar and greed. The slipperiness of this history worked within the contemporary context of an island coup also. What one group felt was job creation another group felt was exploitation. I felt Warner was less successful when dealing with the spirit world of the natives and their lingering presence. She did not overplay this presence but nevertheless it didn't co-exist well in the modern context.
All and all a nice read but flawed also.

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