Book Review – Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk

I’m sure that I had heard about this book before we started this adventure of moving to the Virgin Islands, but I don’t remember in what context. There was also a musical of the same name by Jimmy Buffett so maybe I had heard the name there. “Don’t Stop the Carnival” is fiction but it is based on real events. It is based on a real Broadway press agent who buys a hotel in the Caribbean and all the outrageous things that happen to him and his family. It was written in the 60s and also based in that time, but the story is timeless.

Norman Paperman buys the Gull Reef Club, a resort on the fictional island of Amerigo. The real story took place in the Virgin Islands and some of the mishaps were similar to real tales told by Virgin Islanders, especially all the problems with the cistern.

Norman possesses some undesirable traits. He cheats on his wife and doesn’t even seem to feel guilty about it. He gets a hair-brained idea and goes off half-cocked without any plans which makes all the misfortunes that befall him all the more humorous. That being said, you still root for him. You want the Gull Reef Club to succeed. The description of everything in the book is so vivid that you are there with Norman. You can feel the beauty, the allure, the pull of the Caribbean so much so that you feel if Norman fails, a part of you will fail as well.

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but this book is 400 pages, and I flew threw it in less than a week. There is so much character development that you cheer for these people. No one is perfect, and that makes them real. From Lester Atlas, the boorish benefactor, to Hippolyte, the literally crazy handyman, to Iris Tramm, the damaged seductress. You know these people, and you want to see their stories develop.

While “Don’t Stop the Carnival” is fictional, it does provide some insight into living in the Caribbean. There are adventures with bugs, unreliable service people living on island time, unpredictable storms that blow in out of nowhere, and the differences in everyday living that would cause even the strongest person to lose it just a little bit. Anyone considering a move to the Caribbean must read this book.

Book Review – A Trip to the Beach by Melinda and Robert Blanchard

Of all the books that I have read about moving to the Caribbean, A Trip to the Beach has probably been my favorite. I was skeptical about reading it for a couple of reasons. First, the couple in the book, the Blanchards, were moving to Anguilla, and I was trying to accumulate information about moving to the US Virgin Islands. I reconciled this difference by realizing that many of the obstacles that exist when moving to islands must be similar on every island. Second, I had read several scathing reviews of A Trip to the Beach on Amazon. The reviewers called the Blanchards arrogant and self-absorbed. One reviewer said that the Blanchards were “quite charmed with themselves”.

I’ll admit that when I started reading the book, I also found them a little snooty. When they were deciding what type of food to serve in the restaurant that they planned to open, Mel contemplated French food but argued, “how much salmon mousse and foie gras can you eat?” I don’t even know what foie gras is so that tells you my level of sophistication. However, as I continued to read, I was charmed by their relative naivete.

Starting a restaurant in any location seems to be a daunting task, but starting a restaurant (or any business for that matter) on an island where challenges await you at every turn seems almost insurmountable. Where do you get your food? Where do you find good help? How do you train them where their way of life is so different from your own?

The book spans approximately ten years. It shares an intimate view of Anguilla, both of its landscape and its people. One of the reviews I read claimed that the book did not conjure up images of island life. I disagree. Despite the odds facing the Blanchards, Mel’s descriptions of the island made me want to pack my bags. Even the story of Hurricane Luis made me realize that even with this threat to placid island life, the trade-off is worth the risk. Living everyday on the laidback pace of island time with the beautiful scenery as your backdrop more than makes up for the possibility of damaging weather.

Another aspect of the book that I found to be an added treat was the addition of several of Mel’s recipes. What better way to sell their Caribbean cookbook than with inclusion of tempting recipes like the one for Banana Bread? (Okay, I haven’t bought the cookbook yet, but I will one day!)

A Trip to the Beach is a success story. Not just financial success (even though Blanchard’s is one of the premier restaurants in the Caribbean) but also or personal and emotional success. The Blanchards found a way to turn a trip to the beach for a vacation into a lifetime of happiness. Good for them, and their story gives me hope that we can do the same.

Book Review – Life in the Left Lane by Emy Thomas

I picked up this book at the store at the Buccaneer our second day on the property. I flew through it in one day. Life in the Left Lane is a very easy read. “Life in the Left Lane” is a metaphor that describes what Emy calls Crucian Confusion. Driving on the left side of the road is just one of the many things that initially frustrate some Americans when they move to St. Croix. She says that for statesiders who are accustomed to efficiency and timeliness, moving to the islands can be quite a change. Emy says that those people who “enjoy life in the left lane are a special breed: adventurous, adaptable and accepting, with a good sense of the ridiculous.” Sounds a bit daunting, but it definitely made me want to read more.

Emy came to St. Croix through, what I would consider a non-traditional route. She had sailed all through the Caribbean and Pacific islands for thirteen years during the 60s and 70s. She was drawn to St. Croix and decided to build her home there. The fact that she was able to live on a boat for that number of years just shows how adaptable she is – I’ve never even lived without air conditioning.

Emy seemed to have a very pleasant experience building her home. She moved into it in less than a year. I’ve heard horror stories about building in the islands: workers just don’t show up one day, materials are hard to come by, and conditions for building can be less than optimal.

One thing that disappointed me about this book was that if left me wanting more. The chapter on building her home is only three pages. She has such a breezy style of writing that I just wanted more details, especially since we plan to build on St. Croix. That being said, she really covers a wide variety of topics in the book from Island Cuisine to “Precious Water”.

Reading this book was the first time I had ever heard about a cistern. St. Croix is not an island with a real rainy season. It does not have high mountains that collect and attract rain. As a result, unless you live in town, you have to build a cistern underneath your home. It’s like a basement full of water. The gutters on the house collect the rainwater and direct it into the cistern. (This was one of the first things I looked up on the Internet when we got home.) If too much time goes by without rain, you have to have water brought in by truck and pumped into your cistern. From what I have heard, this is not cheap. Of course, the water needs vary depending on what area of the island you are on. The east side is much drier and therefore, does not get the amount of rain that the west side receives.

Some of the information in this book was a little disconcerting, especially the chapter on crime, but the overall feel of this book made me want to move here so badly that I just wanted to look for an apartment and send for the pets to join us. Emy has such a great attitude and humor that permeates the book. I would recommend it even if you weren’t looking to live on St. Croix. It will expose you to a way a life that you likely have never fathomed or contemplated, but you will definitely appreciate after reading this book.