Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Island Away - A Novel

I've just finished reading An Island Away, one of Daniel Putkowski's novels set in Aruba.   My nose is usually in a nineteenth century English novel.  I thrive on Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, and Arnold Bennet; so An Island Away is a departure from my usual reading fare.  I must warn those of you who are usually immersed in the classics like I am - there's a fair amount of graphic description in An Island Away that you may or may not like.  It's not what I'm used to, but the moral and theological implications of the story make it worthwhile.

The novel's main character is a Columbian girl named Luz.  Youth, beauty, a devotion to family, and dire financial circumstances all combine to send Luz to Aruba to work as a prostitute in the Zone of Tolerance where prostitution is legal.  Luz's acquaintances include American business men, oil refinery workers, and native Arubans, all of whom appreciate and enjoy the carefree Aruban lifestyle.  The town where Luz lives and works is home to numerous bars and houses of prostitution. 

Luz is not without religious principles.  At one point she returns home to Columbia, gets a job at a grocery store, and attempts to live a more conventional life.  But, as a single mother, she is financially responsible for her young son.  Her mother and sister also depend on her, and before long she makes the decision to go back to Aruba where she can make more money in the Zone of Tolerance than she can make at a grocery store.  When she gets back to Aruba, she keeps enough of what she earns to pay her expenses and sends the rest back to Columbia to her mother and sister who are caring for her little son. 

Luz's mother and sister don't know that she's engaged in prostitution.  Even so, they don't approval of her.  They're ungrateful and critical.  They imagine that she is leading a charmed existence in an island paradise.  But Luz continues to sacrifice herself for them even after she brings her son to live with her in Aruba. 

The novel is populated by good timing, devil-may-care types.  But they are a likable bunch.  They care about each other and look out for each other.  Christians could learn a thing or two from them about "bearing one another's burdens."

I can't figure out why Luz didnt leave the world of prostitution behind when she had an opportunity to make a life with one of the honorable men in her life.  Although she loves her little boy, she sacrifices a relationship with him when she passes up this opportunity.  Has she become so accustomed to a life of prostitution that it's no longer distasteful to her?  Does she doubt the ability of an honorable man to forgive her past?  Does she think she's beyond redemption?  Is she confused enough to think she's done the one thing that even a loving God can't forgive?  She does a pretty good job of rationalizing her decision, but I don't think she's at peace with it.  She loves her little boy too much to be at peace with a decision that excludes him from her life.
It always happens to me when I read a good novel - I get attached to the characters and wonder what happens to them after the novel ends, as if they are real flesh and blood people whose lives continue on.  I wish Luz well because there's a great deal that I like and admire about her - her willingness to sacrifice for those she loves, her sense of justice, her ability to maneuver diplomatically in a difficult world.                                   
Of course, I suppose I can find the answers to some of these questions about Luz's future by reading Putkowski's sequel, Under a Blue Flag.   I plan to read it eventually, but I think I need a break.  I'm off to read something lighter and less thought provoking.  P. G. Wodehouse maybe.