Jasmine Sealy | Barbados
The Island of Forgetting explores aspects of Caribbean life that goes against the perception of the tropical paradise trope from vacation brochures. Sealy deftly maneuvers us into the lives of a Barbadian family struggling with generational depression and the secrets that hold them hostage from their past, the knowledge which would help explain and ease their identity struggles.
The book begins in 1969 with Iapetus who details his descent into mental and emotional despair after witnessing his father’s death by his brother and mother. His guilt is severe enough to spiral him into homelessness and isolation. Despite killing his father, Cronus is deeply concerned about Iapetus’ wellbeing and tries to help him ‘forget’ what he has seen and move forward with his life; and this is where the forgetting begins for this family.
For three generations after Iapetus: his son Atlas, his granddaughter Calypso, and his great-grandson Nautilus, they all develop some form of mental depression that directs the course of their lives. It’s rare to see such a deep investigation of mental illness within a Caribbean family setting, and Sealy does not shy away from the turmoil, self-destruction, and deference that commands large swaths of mental space in all of their lives. There is an air of neglect that develops between parents and child among the main characters, and this allows destructive behaviors to grow. This family is on a constant cycle of trying to forget the past, but in doing so, confusion ignites feelings of lost identity.
Weaved into all of this is the foreign economic exploitation happening in Barbados that’s fueling the country’s tourism industry. The impact that developers have on politicians and destroying the environmental landscape of Barbados is striking if you allow yourself as the reader to ponder on these issues. The fact that these foreign investors upset more than just the landscape with their resort plans, is evident in neglected children raised by single mothers such as Calypso.
Sealy does an exceptional job with her main characters and tackling topics not generally covered in Caribbean families. It was hard as a reader to absorb the paths chosen by Atlas and Calypso, who both had so much educational potential that was neglected. I also would have loved more dialect to make me feel more immersed in Bajan culture. Nautilus travels his own path to self-awareness and the ending does give hope for this family in repairing the damage done by generations of closely guarded secrets.