By Monique Coffey

(Viking, $16, 384 pages)

Who is this author?

Trinidad is where Monique Roffey was born and it’s where the story she tells in “Archipelago” begins. After receiving her education in the United Kingdom, Roffey became Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Sussex, Chichester, and Greenwich universities and has written several novels, among them “sun dog” and The White Woman on the Green Bicycle,” which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010 and the Encore Award 2011. She has also written a memoir, “With the Kisses of His Mouth.” “Archipelago” won this year’s OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, and Roffey is being hailed as a new and powerful voice in Caribbean fiction.

What is this book about?

Water destroys; water heals. It is a devastating flood that ruins Gavin Weald’s home – and life – in Trinidad, killing his infant son, a tragedy that in turn inundates his wife with a severe depression that incapacitates her. Gavin himself is nearly drowning in sorrow. – he can’t concentrate on work and can barely care for his six-year-old daughter, who suffers nightmares when the next rainy season comes to the island. What to do? His solution is brave, if alarming: he takes his little girl, aptly named Ocean, and their dog Suzy and sets out on his boat to experience – appease? conquer? – the sea. As they sail through archipelagos on their way to the Galapagos Islands, father, daughter and beloved dog find challenges, courage and, at last, a way to cope.

Why you’ll like it:

Add this to your shelf of books about the power and glory of the wild ocean, along with “Moby Dick” and “Kon-tiki” and “The Life of Pi.” Roffey tells her dramatic tale with a calm and precise voice that contrasts beautifully with the untamable, unpredictable nature of Nature. The story is inspirational without becoming treacle-y and Roffey’s powers of description add immeasurably to this moving tale of love and redemption.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “…. A flood in Trinidad destroys Gavin Weald’s house and drowns his baby boy. Desperate to shed his grief, he sails with his six-year-old daughter Ocean and their dog Suzy to the Galapagos, heedless of the danger. Roffey wastes no opportunity to infuse her story with metaphors and lessons that point Gavin toward redemption. He has owned the sturdy Romany for years, since finding it afloat without its skipper, who may or may not haunt her decks. Ocean is a deep old soul, whose posttraumatic-stress tantrums help her discover a philosophy that she can use to guide her dad to a kind of salvation from sadness. There is many a reference to Ahab and Starbuck, and events and encounters, from an albino whale to a woman’s tattoo (“further” it reads), are fraught with meaning. That this story has been told many times only speaks to its enduring resonance. Roffey … is a masterful writer whose words are subsumed in the pictures they paint and the tales they spin.”

Says Kirkus Reviews: “Unmoored by catastrophe, a father takes his daughter and dog to sea in this gentle novel from Orange Prize finalist Roffey … It’s been almost a year since a disastrous flood in Port of Spain, Trinidad, drowned Gavin’s infant son. …. They can’t get over their losses in a house filled with memories, Gavin decides; he boards his boat Romany with Océan and their dog Suzy, determined to fulfill his youthful dream of visiting the Galapagos Islands. As they sail west toward the Panama Canal, stops along the way at various islands give Roffey the opportunity to make some pointed observations about wealthy tourists, and she draws a quiet parallel between the legacy of colonialism and her characters’ emotional state…: Gavin worries at first, as both Océan and Suzy retch with seasickness while he struggles to guide Romany through a squall, that he’s made a terrible mistake; ongoing references to “Moby-Dick” underscore the sea’s capacity to inflict harm, as does a shipboard fall that leaves Océan with a nasty wound. Island doctors stitch up her leg, and we see father and daughter slowly reawakening to happiness as they experience tranquil days amid the natural beauty of the Caribbean….. A bit short on narrative energy, but appealingly warmhearted; readers will empathize with the endearing characters and want them to have a happy ending. “

Library Journal says: “…. As in other novels, particularly “Moby-Dick,” the sea becomes a life source that forces Gavin and Ocean to come to terms with heartbreak and accept the profound changes in their lives. Written in a style as fluid as water, Roffey’s narrative weaves a perfect description of land and seascapes and explores the value of friendship and various types of love. VERDICT As heart-grabbing and memorable as her other books… this new work will have readers cheering for Gavin, Ocean, and Claire. An excellent choice for book groups.”

“Engrossing. . . . Roffey here creates an incrementally powerful reflection on grief, an acute study of a father-daughter relationship, with a compelling account of climate change and a transformative journey. . . . The novel shows what remains in the heart when we have lost what we love, and the inner resources needed to rebuild a life from its ruins,” says The Independent.

When is it available?

Sail over to the Barbour, Blue Hills or Mark Twain branch of the Hartford Public Library to borrow this book.

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