The best books to accompany your Caribbean Sojourn

Raymond A. Saraceni Author Of Off the Beach in the Caribbean: Travels in the Little Leeward Islands
By Raymond A. Saraceni

Who am I?

Over the years, I have had the good fortune to visit various ports of call through the eastern Caribbean and have been struck repeatedly not by the sameness but by the diversity of things and people. I also began to lament that those who visit the islands are encouraged to do so as vacationers rather than as travelers – to borrow a binary from the great Paul Bowles. Encountering a place with any sense of generosity necessitates reading about it, and while the titles I have included here represent some of those that I have found most rewarding and exciting, the full list is as long and varied as the archipelago of islands itself.           


I wrote...

Off the Beach in the Caribbean: Travels in the Little Leeward Islands

By Raymond A. Saraceni,

Book cover of Off the Beach in the Caribbean: Travels in the Little Leeward Islands

What is my book about?

Focused upon some of the Caribbean’s tiniest islands, this work offers the reader unique access to the stunning beauty, the bustling diversity, and the compelling cultural life of these often-overlooked places. From Saba’s cloud forests to the desolate ruins of St. Eustatius’ Lower Town, from Nevis’ sly monkeys to Montserrat’s goatskin bands to Anguilla’s gleaming salt ponds, Off the Beach tells a tale of past and present: of slavers and slave resistance, of volcanic blasts, of stalwart revolutionaries, and of tourism’s inescapable impact. Informed by the author’s many years of travel to the region. This book also introduces readers to a cadre of artists, authors, scholars, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. If you seek to travel to the Caribbean rather than simply vacation there, this book is for you. 

The books I picked & why

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Omeros

By Derek Walcott,

Book cover of Omeros

Why this book?

This extraordinary narrative poem by St. Lucia’s noble laureate, Derek Walcott, is equal parts Homer (hence the title) and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Its tale of an epic rivalry between erstwhile friends Hector and Achille as they compete for the love of the same woman masterfully intertwines with the setting forth and coming to artistic maturity of a character fashioned in the image of the poet himself. Vast in its ambitions and characterized by a sweeping sense of history, Omeros is also intimate and tender in its exploration of love and need, with the Caribbean presented as a setting for the full panorama of human experience in all of its turbulent and heartbreaking grandeur. 

Omeros

By Derek Walcott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Omeros as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Omeros is the grand epic poem told in multiple chapters from Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott.

With circular narrative design, titled with the Greek name for Homer, Omeros simultaneously charts two currents of history: the visible history charted in events--the tribal losses of the American Indian, the tragedy of African enslavement--and the interior, unwritten epic fashioned from the suffering of the individual in exile.

“One of the great poems of our time.” —John Lucas, New Statesman


The Mystic Masseur

By V.S. Naipaul,

Book cover of The Mystic Masseur

Why this book?

Every so often you come across a book that opens up a world you have never encountered before. This 1957 novel by Trinidadian noble laureate V.S. Naipaul is one such book. Its account of the enterprising Ganesh Ramsumair – a Trinidadian of South Asian descent – and his rise from obscurity to national prominence is recounted with a satirical wink and rendered in delicious prose. Every scene is meticulously observed, and every character impeccably drawn – particularly Ganesh’s cantankerous father-in-law and sometime rival, Ramlogan. Sly, sardonic, and Dickensian in its (generally good-natured) reflection upon human frailty, The Mystic Masseur remains as fresh and fun today as ever.

The Mystic Masseur

By V.S. Naipaul,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mystic Masseur as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two of V. S. Naipaul's earliest novels, already displaying his humour, endless inventiveness and imaginitive brilliance.

The Mystic Masseur tells the story of Ganesh, who at the beginning of the novel is a struggling masseur at a time when 'masseurs were ten a penny in Trinidad'. From failed primary-school teacher and masseur to author, revered mystic and MBE, his is a journey memorable for its hilarious and bewildering success. Naipaul's clarity of style, humorous touch and powerful characterization are all in evidence in this, his first book. Funny, touching and perceptive, this novel is a wonderful introduction for readers new…


Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713

By Richard S. Dunn,

Book cover of Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713

Why this book?

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that modern historical scholarship focused upon the West Indies begins with Richard S. Dunn’s Sugar and Slaves. Blazing a trail that nearly all subsequent scholars in the field continue to travel, Dunn’s work brings a materialist and statistical awareness to the study of Caribbean history. Though this may sound like a recipe for aridity, the results are anything but dry. In his analysis of medical records, census data, mortality rates, and summaries of plantation inventories, Dunn opens up a picture of the English West Indies not as a society with slaves, but as a true slave society – one dominated by an institution that consumed countless lives with breathtaking indifference (and whose legacy continues to haunt the region today).  

Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713

By Richard S. Dunn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sugar and Slaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published by UNC Press in 1972, Sugar and Slaves presents a vivid portrait of English life in the Caribbean more than three centuries ago. Using a host of contemporary primary sources, Richard Dunn traces the development of plantation slave society in the region. He examines sugar production techniques, the vicious character of the slave trade, the problems of adapting English ways to the tropics, and the appalling mortality rates for both blacks and whites that made these colonies the richest, but in human terms the least successful, in English America.


A State of Independence

By Caryl Phillips,

Book cover of A State of Independence

Why this book?

Pity Bertram Francis. After more than a decade in the United Kingdom, the protagonist of Caryl Phillips 1986 novel has returned to his home an unnamed island in the Caribbean on the eve of independence. But in seeking to find a place for himself, Bertram quickly discovers that long-simmering resentments and petty grudges (particularly on the part of the island’s soon-to-be prime minister) might very well undermine his high-minded commitment to the nation’s future. But is Bertram’s own idealism also part of the problem, manifesting itself in part as a kind of smug elitism born of his studies in the metropole? Exploring the fraught space between obligation, dependency, and autonomy (in matters of state as well as of the heart), this supple novel and its complex protagonist will linger long after you’ve finished reading.

A State of Independence

By Caryl Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A State of Independence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Phillips examines the transitions of a Caribbean nation from colonialism to a dubious state of independence through the experiences of Bertram Francis, a young man who leaves St. Kitts at the age of thirteen to study law on a coveted scholarship in England. Twenty years later he returns, chastened by failure, hoping to succeed at “something that doesn't make me dependent upon the white man.” The rejections Francis faced in England are nothing to those that greet him in his homeland, where the resentments of the people he abandoned are exceeded only by the cynicism of the old friends who…


The Traveller's Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands

By Patrick Leigh Fermor,

Book cover of The Traveller's Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands

Why this book?

Patrick Leigh Fermor is without question one of the greatest travel writers in the pantheon, and this early work clarifies that reputation. Providing a glimpse of the West Indies in the years immediately following the Second World War, Fermor’s book is rich in description, profound in understanding, exuberant in its overall moods and textures. The author is evocative without being effusive, providing a rich sense of cultural and historical context – island after island – without overloading the reader with a mere density of fact. As is not always the case with travel writers (and even very good travel writers), Fermor himself is never the subject. We see things alongside him, as he sees them – grateful at every moment for his learned, humane, and passionate sensibility. This is one of the first travel books about the West Indies to take the islands and their inhabitants seriously.

The Traveller's Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands

By Patrick Leigh Fermor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Traveller's Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the late 1940s Patrick Leigh Fermor, now widely regarded as one of the twentieth century’s greatest travel writers, set out to explore the then relatively little-visited islands of the Caribbean. Rather than a comprehensive political or historical study of the region, The Traveller’s Tree, Leigh Fermor’s first book, gives us his own vivid, idiosyncratic impressions of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, Barbados, Trinidad, and Haiti, among other islands. Here we watch Leigh Fermor walk the dusty roads of the countryside and the broad avenues of former colonial capitals, equally at home among the peasant and the elite, the laborer and the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Caribbean, the West Indies, and sugar?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Caribbean, the West Indies, and sugar.

The Caribbean Explore 100 books about the Caribbean
The West Indies Explore 16 books about the West Indies
Sugar Explore 14 books about sugar

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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