The Pirate’s Daughter (Jamaica)

book coverby Margaret Cezair-Thompson

this book appears on the blog courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore

Four generations of single Jamaican mothers: One small polyglot family.

  • Oni, the great-grandmother–a Maroon, descended from African slaves, practices traditional  healing called obeah and lives way up in the mountains.
  • Esme, the grandmother–her father was Chinese but has run away. She has accepted Western Christianity and is irritated by her old-fashioned mother’s spiritual practices.
  • Ida, the mother–her father is Lebanese. Mr. Joseph is still around, but Esme can’t marry him because his first wife, who lives in Kingston with their 2 daughters, refuses to give him a divorce.
  • May, the daughter–her father is the American movie star Errol Flynn, who gets her mother pregnant at 17 and leaves her to deal with it. He is too mean to send money.
Errol Flynn
You can see why almost every woman in the world fell for him…hence the expression “In like Flynn”…

Which is funny, because Tasmanian-born Errol Flynn is sitting on millions. Of course, he has two–or three?–ex-wives, assorted kids, legal and not, and statutory rape charges to defend himself against in courts of law.

It’s hard to imagine that a man like this was once as big a star as Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, or Brad Pitt. But he was–a swashbuckling action-adventure hero whose yacht washed up on the shores of Jamaica during a storm in 1946. When he befriends Eli Joseph and starts using him as a chauffer and drinking buddy, Flynn never, ever pays for drinks, meals, gas, nothing.

“It seemed to Flynn that back in America, people always wanted something from him. The kindness of Jamaicans made him feel almost humble…”

The Setting

Flynn loves the tropical island, and you will too. Port Antonio before the troubles is portrayed as heaven on earth–warm and sunny, lovely beaches, small and out-of-the-way-bars with the world’s finest rum and perhaps the lushest ganja…

Trident Castle in Port Antonio
Trident Castle in Port Antonio

Beautiful colonial architecture and beautiful tropical flowers.

“Oni’s wood-and-zinc-roof cottage had a fenced garden where she grew plants for bush medicine. People for miles around knew her as Madda Oni, a bush-doctor and obeah woman, she could cure sicknesses, catch shadows, and predict the future…”


Otaheite apples
The Otaheite apple came to Jamaica from Tahiti and is shaped like a pear.

This novel stands with a small handful of books I’ve read for this blog that were outstandingly good. The sense of place is strong, and it is a delightful place (until the unfortunate events toward the end). The characters are quirky and engaging, and very real. I loved how skillfully the author had blended history little known to Americans (like the effects of the Cuban revolution on Jamaica) with her adventure story and the elements of surprise concerning the character’s pasts.

Five Otaheiti apples!

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