We had been on St. Thomas for four days (extremely hot, humid August days) with: a broken A/C; two fussy children confused by the nearly complete lack of furniture and toys; and two hissing cats behind the washing machine who wanted nothing to do with us after the plane trip. The one saving grace was my mother, who out of maternal love and duty flew down with us to help move and settle in. She had headed up the anti-move camp (understandable, as who wants their grandchildren to move far away?), yet still she came – and in the middle of hurricane season, nonetheless.
She returned from the grocery store that fourth sweaty afternoon, tossed a book on our lonely rattan sofa and said, ‘you MUST read this.’ It was “Don’t Stop The Carnival” by Herman Wouk. Never heard of it. Turns out, on their Caribbean honeymoon my father gave her a copy and said, ‘you MUST read this.’ This was in 1968, three years after the book was published, and already it was being heralded as the first of the modern Escape-to-the-Islands canon. I wanted nothing really to do with the book at that point. I wanted my own form of escapist literature– think Thomas Mann and high snowy Alps, or London Chick Lit – anything but island reads. She kept asking, and a week later (after the hurricane, thank you very much), I caved, picked up “Don’t Stop The Carnival,” and didn’t put it down until I was finished.
In a nutshell: in winter 1959, a Manhattan press agent of ‘young middle age’ chucks it all and moves to ‘Amerigo’ (really St. Thomas) to become an innkeeper. It is absolutely one of the best and funniest books I have read; I carried it around for days, rereading parts and soaking it up, and every single person who saw me with it said, ‘oh, that is such a MUST read for down here.’ Wouk had lived on St. Thomas for 6 years, so he got everything right and authentic: the atmosphere, the variety of people, the island attitudes, and even descriptions of places on Amerigo/St. Thomas (disguised with different names – but one can figure it out). “Don’t Stop the Carnival” also goes beyond mere escapist literature and delves into the sometimes not-so-pretty undercurrents of island life in the Caribbean. Crazy thing is, much of his book still seems to ring true today. As I drive around the island (especially on Skyline Drive, where he evidently lived), I always wonder what it must have been like 50 years ago, when people were just beginning to think, ‘wait a minute, I can MOVE to a place like this!’ And did.