When you hear the name Bahamas, the image that comes to mind is that of sunny beaches, colorful festivals and lots of American tourists among the vibrant native black population. A set of about 700 islands in the Lucayan Archipelago, the Bahamas is the site of Columbus’s first landfall. The Spanish did not colonize the islands but shipped the native Lucayans to slavery in the Hispanic world. The British, when they reached, did colonize the islands. After the American War of Independence, the Crown settled thousands of American Loyalists here. They brought their slaves with them and established plantations. Eventually, the region became a safe haven for liberated slaves. Their descendants make 90% of the current population of the islands. Bahama is one of the richest countries in the Americas following the US and Canada.
The Bahamas have a lot of writers in English. bahamapundit is a very good compilation of various aspects of life in the Bahamas, including the latest books from the region. There are quite a few books explaining the history of the region in much detail like The Story of the Bahamas by Paul Albury or Bahamian Loyalists and their Slaves by Dr.Gail Saunders. There are a few good titles available in fiction as well.
For my reading, I am choosing Bahama Crisis by Desmond Bagley. Its a thin book and by the appearance of it, looks like a racy tourist read. However, it was popular enough to be available in India. I almost downloaded the Kindle version, when I found a copy in a used book shop, Bookworm on Church Street in Bangalore. A side note about Bookworm: it has two shops with rows and rows of both new and used books at affordable prices. It is strategically located close to most newspaper offices in Bangalore, so that journalists and authors frequent it. The owners have a lot of wisdom picked up from them which they are too happy to part-with, with an enthusiastic customer. They are nice enough to check the availability of a book for you over phone and will even deliver your order if you happen to live on their daily commute route. As is evident by this utter digression, I am completely in love with the place. My vision of heaven keeps altering between this and the beach in Devbagh, Karvar.
Bahama Crisis turned out to be everything it promises to be, and then some! It was fun and fast paced, not boring the reader even for a single minute, with unexpected plot twists and a big bang ending. In short, it was the mainstream Bollywood equivalent of the book world. It had a clearly demarcated hero and a villain, a tragedy, a love story to redeem from it, the handsome policeman, the good guys, the bad guys, the whole shebang!
The story starts with a valiant attempt to clear the misunderstanding about the Bahamian populace:
“My name is Tom Mangan and I am a Bahamian – a White Bahamian. This caused some comment when I was up at Cambridge; it is surprising how ill-informed even educated people can be about my home islands. I was told that I could not be Bahamian because Bahamians are black; that the Bahamas are in the Caribbean, which they are not; and many confused the Bahamas with Bermuda or even Barbados.”
With this, the novel launches into some historical context setting, which turns out to be very relevant in the end – although a bit dated when read now. The protagonist talks about the egalitarian nature of the Bahamian society due to its history:
“As a Bahamian, class differences, as betrayed by accent, had been a matter of indifference to me, but my time in England had taught me that the English take it seriously, so I learned the nuances.”
The attitude towards the American tourists is welcoming:
“We encourage Americans to come to our islands; you are our bread and butter. But we don’t like firearms.”
I will not betray too many details about the plot, as the story is linear and crisp and summarizing it here will take away from the pleasure of the would-be reader. However I will say that, the flow is realistic with allusions to rape, violent murders and drug trafficking. In this age of Game of Thrones this may be par course, but we have to remember that the book was first published in 1980. It is extremely readable even today.
Although not completely set in the Bahamas, I recommend Bahama Crisis for a look into the marinas and the beach culture, a brief peek into the hotel culture and a bird’s eye view of the law and order framework of the region.
Other Options from the Bahamas:
Thine is the Kingdom – Garth Buckner
An exploration of nature and identity in post-colonial Bahamas.
Disappearance of J.D. Sinclair – Keith A. Russel
Set in Abaco and Nassau of 1960s