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Book Title: The Orchid House|
The author of the book: Phyllis Shand Allfrey
ISBN 13: 9780813523323
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 823 KB
City - Country: No data
Edition: Rutgers University Press
Date of issue: October 1st 1996
Loaded: 1392 times
Reader ratings: 3.3
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The Orchid House was written by Phyllis Shand Allfrey, whose family had been among the earliest colonizers of Dominica. It’s a semiautobiographical novel about a British family that has lived on the island for generations. The father (The Master) in The Orchid House has returned from World War II with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. There are three sisters who have all moved away from the island, with the middle sister, Joan, being the one who most closely resembles the author. And there is the sisters’ old nurse, a black woman named Lally, which was also the name of the author’s nurse when she was growing up.
Lally is the narrator of the book, which opens with the mother of the three sisters (Madam) visiting Lally in the one-room house where she has lived since she retired from taking care of the sisters. They share some wine and Madam tells Lally that the sisters are all coming for a visit. Two of the sisters, Stella and Joan, each have a small child who will be coming with them, and Madam asks Lally to come out of retirement to take care of the children while they’re on the island. Lally is fiercely loyal to the family, and we see both their good and bad character traits through her loving eyes.
Both Stella and Joan married men without much money, and the family’s economic situation on the island has deteriorated over the years. The only thing keeping the family afloat is the fact that the youngest of the three sisters, Natalie, married a rich man who died not too long after the wedding. The biggest crisis facing the family is the narcotic cigarettes that the Master has smoked ever since he returned from the war. The rest of the family both hates and fears the man, Mr. Lilipoulala, who sails to the island periodically to bring him his supply of these drugs.
There is also a friend from their childhood, Andrew, who complicates the sisters’ return home. He has developed a life-threatening illness, which means he rarely leaves the house. He is living with Cornélie, who is a cousin of the sisters, being the daughter of their womanizing uncle and a black seamstress, who were never married. Each of the sisters spend time with Andrew upon their return to the island, causing a great deal of consternation for Cornélie.
One of the more interesting aspects of this book, from my point of view, is the introduction written by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, professor of Hispanic studies at Vassar College. This introduction helped provide a context for the novel itself by giving the reader a look into the life of the book’s author. Much like the character of Joan in The Orchid House, Allfrey was a social activist committed to improving the lives of people on the lower end of the economic ladder. While Joan tried to organize the jobless people on the island to fight for unemployment benefits in the novel, Allfrey founded the Dominica Labour Party and became the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs in real life.
All in all, this short novel kept me entertained and provided a unique perspective on a country about which I knew nothing previously.
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