Andrea Lee’s New Novel Is About Love And Culture


Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Red Island House by Andrea Lee: 288 pages.

Kaya Paluda, Editor in Chief

Andrea Lee once again published an amazing book. Red Island House is her newest novel and it’s amazing how she can touch her readers just from words printed on a page. In this novel she shows how people so tight and stuck together by the hip can be, and how where we come from does not always dictate where we truly belong. It also is on the topic of race and culture that toes the line between lies and reality. Books that are written from a perspective of a person of color tend to be difficult for the author to present and perceive but in this novel, it’s obvious Andrea Lee knows exactly how to perceive it and she does it perfectly. 

 The main character Shay Gilliam is married to Senna (an Italian businessman) and is a mistress of the Red House. Shay and her husband met at a wedding in Italy, and have an unbreakable bond. He’s older and wealthy, and for both of them, this is their second marriage. The story goes along with Shay and her husband as he begins to build a property on the undisturbed island of Madagascar. When Shay’s husband builds his dream vacation home in Madagascar, he tells her that it’s a wedding present for her. But she is knowledgeable that it’s not and it is for his own pleasure. 

The story is told through a series of very well-written narratives. Shay is not always present in all the narratives but she is always present as a sort of observer as she attempts to resolve tensions going on in her marriage. Shay plays her position as a “mistress” to a home with the price of becoming an outsider when it comes to belonging to the privileged class. The Red House is a large house and is accompanied by her housekeeper to a conjurer to lift an evil spell on her house. The Red House is not a plantation, and the people that work there are not enslaved, but its structured social systems are very unsettling.

 Throughout this story, Shay wants to show her history as a Black woman in Africa. Novels with a lot of cultural background are difficult to write because they need to have the perspective of the people in the culture perfectly perceived. I admired the Malagasy people’s honesty as they and their country became an exotic adventure destination for others, as well as all the amazing historical and cultural knowledge of the Malagasy world and culture which Lee captured perfectly. I didn’t know much of this culture or land at first and I did learn some things and new information that now I feel more comfortable and knowledgeable about them and their culture. 

  Overall this novel is really interesting and intriguing. Even the cover of the book hooked me to read this novel. But what’s inside was even better. I think that the little details are really what made this novel itself because it’s not a typical storyline that you read about often. If you’re into novels written in the colored person perspective this is the perfect one to read. It’s refreshing and a book that is definitely hard to put down.