Lee’s superb fiction often describes the collisions between people who hail from different cultures. She returns to this fertile ground in a new novel but widens her scope, suggesting some historical wounds are too deep to heal, and even a woman who believes she has stepped beyond her own tribal identity can never free herself totally ... Lee isn’t writing magical realism per se — she is conjuring up a locale where the power of superstition still holds sway ... Lee’s prodigious talent for physical description causes her to overindulge at points, and a few passages of Red Island House sound like copy lifted from a high-end travel magazine...Also, because the story is told in stand-alone stories, Red Island House has less propulsive power than Lee’s stirring 2006 novel, Lost Hearts in Italy ... But these are niggling criticisms of a gorgeous narrative that perhaps only Lee could have constructed — an ambitious attempt to use fiction to explore the reality of a world fractured by race and class, and divided between the haves and the have-hardly-anything-at-alls.
The ebb and flow of Shay’s marriage is just part of the story, as Red Island House contains vignettes about a fascinating array of characters and entanglements in the Naratrany society that surrounds though never quite embraces the couple. From the feuding female entrepreneurs whom Shay calls 'Sirens' to the local éminence grise who may or may not have spiritual powers, it’s a complex and seductive tapestry ... Lee’s striking writing is layered and thick with evocative descriptions of people, landscapes, feelings and foreboding. Sociological and psychological, it’s prose with the abstract feel of poetry. The stories of Red Island House are vibrant and enchanting despite the current of dread that runs through the novel from the start.
... lush, perceptive ... The Red House, like the entire island, is seductive, and Lee describes it exquisitely ... in league with other major novels that use far-flung locales to explore cultural asymmetry and racism, like Toni Morrison’s and Norman Rush’s Mating. And as with those books, Lee celebrates what distinguishes her setting – her descriptions of Madagascar are rich and deep. But she doesn’t succumb to the exoticism that makes the country feel 'ornamental and harmless,' as Shay puts it ... For a time, Shay and Senna’s marriage feels like an underdrawn element of the book –why stay in a marriage so suffused with anxiety, ignorance, and bigotry? But the closing pages explore that dynamic so well that Red Island House becomes a unique, surprising work – at once a psychological novel, a novel of place and a novel about relationships ... a savvy exploration of the many ways that plundering is done.
Red Island House, Andrea Lee's latest novel, is marbled with the rich imagery of Madagascar's landscape. The dense, delicious prose is packed, from the opening pages, with a blend of historic and current events, context and conflict, as Shay — a Black American professor from Oakland, Calif. — joins her Italian husband, Senna, at their custom-built palatial home, known to neighbors as the 'Red House.' ... The novel's structure is a series of discrete tales ... Lee approaches the broadly political and the minutely intimate with equally fine prose. 'The life of an island is about watching for those who arrive and dreaming of those who depart,' Shay thinks. Lee offers a fascinating sequence of arrivals and departures.
... the beauty of Red Island House is that it is now, spanning a time from the early nineties to present day. Colonialism and its legacies are alive and well, though our understanding of it may be more complex ... the beauty of Red Island House is that it is now, spanning a time from the early nineties to present day. Colonialism and its legacies are alive and well, though our understanding of it may be more complex ... At times the novel changes course, becoming what feels like a set of short stories telling the tale of other island residents...While these journeys are engaging, they take us away from Shay’s narrative and can feel meandering at times ... Nevertheless, Naratrany is a captivating setting, made more so by Andrea Lee’s choice in narration. Rather than a conventional third person narration focused on Shay, Lee takes a few steps back and tells Shay’s story like a fable for the ages ... a difficult work to characterize: part novel, part collection, part epic. Lee shows us a new setting, its natural beauty and stark class divisions, and its rich culture and settler exploitation. By centering Shay she shows us the nuance of privilege and culpability. She takes care to focus on the voices of foreigners, stating in a detailed author’s note her deep affection for Malagasy literature and the need for own voices narratives. More than anything, Andrea Lee shows us that the conversation on colonialism is far from over, and far from one-dimensional. To acknowledge its presence is to acknowledge how many of us, in one way or another, have a small part to play.
...offers a fresh take on colonialism, privilege, race, and heritage from the perspective of a Black American scholar married to a rich Italian businessman ... Lee draws a vivid picture of this willful, self-made man, who lifted his family from postwar poverty with a business brokering repair services for agricultural machines across Europe ... Lee sets up these sources of friction in the book’s opening pages, which also pack in a lot of deeply researched information about Madagascar. Against this backdrop, Red Island House charts Shay’s journey of discovery – getting to know both her home away from home (away from home) and herself ... richly evocative ... But while the cumulative effect is mesmerizing, the episodic form, which Lee has long championed, has its drawbacks. Rather than build steadily towards a denouement, the disjointed narrative periodically loses steam. Continuity issues like repetitions should have been caught in editing ... provocative.
In her first book in 15 years, Lee asks, can an African American be a colonizer? Shay, an accomplished Black literature professor, is captivated by Senna, an Italian adventurer ... In a series of linked short stories, Lee reveals Shay’s growing connection to this most isolated of African countries, and her discomfort with the crass, exploitative Europeans who have made it their private playground ... Brilliant and tragic.
Gorgeous writing, fascinating stories, and a vibrant cast of locals and expats dance around this basic theme. One of Shay's early allies is Bertine La Grande, the head housekeeper, who helps her use witchcraft to undo the wrongs wrought by her husband and the evil manager. Another thread depicts the rivalry between two powerful women, one a restaurateur and the other a bar owner. Against a background of myth and magic, as well as racism, sex tourism, and exploitation, the never-perfect match between Senna and Shay continues to devolve. An utterly captivating, richly detailed, and highly critical vision of how the one percent lives in neocolonial paradise.
Lee’s seductive novel chronicles the life of Shay Gilliam, a Black American woman married to an Italian man ...If the plotting is episodic, the writing is vivid: 'the first caress of tropical air' is 'like an infant’s hand on the face,' and Shay’s fond reflections on Bertine are especially moving. Things ebb and flow, but the overall impact is quietly powerful.