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The Naked Island    by Bryna Wasserman order for
Naked Island
by Bryna Wasserman
Order:  USA  Can
Key Porter, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Naked Island is a most unusual combination of horror, travelogue and romance. It all begins with the slaying of an Indonesian priest by the Dutch in 1787 Java. A century later, that priest's descendant, Zulkanyan, is killed by the backlash of a curse he set against neighbours. His soul in turn influences a Lake Erie farmer named Garnet Warren (who tells us the spirit 'sharpened my loneliness and impaled me with it') to suicide.

The tale is told from the point of view of this ghost, who is attracted to the child (Rachel) of the family who live in his old home. This young girl is aware of the haunt, knows who he is, and speaks to him. Through the story, he acts as 'a buffer between her and unwanted danger'. Later, a twenty-three-year-old Rachel, betrayed by her drug-addicted lover with her sister, sets off on her travels ('following my feelings around'). She spends time in Tel Aviv, in India (where she fondly recalls a family friend, 'Uncle Joseph' equally apt to quote Shakespeare and Tagore), Kashmir, and Nepal.

Rachel ends up at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore (I once enjoyed the obligatory Singapore Sling there), where a kind of sleeping sickness (seemingly influenced by the evil spirit, Zulkanyan) strikes. In Singapore, Jewish Rachel Gold meets and is attracted to Muslim Kifli Talib who, unbeknownst to her, is regularly possessed by Zulkanyan, and has committed murder under his influence. The latter fact doesn't daunt Rachel, who takes both killings and possession in her stride, and encourages Kifli to follow her to Sydney, Australia. Eventually, Rachel learns that 'Death ... is nothing to fear.'

The novel explores the nature of evil through a series of somewhat disjointed reminiscences. Though The Naked Island didn't quite work for me, it's a unique story, and I did enjoy the heroine's travels through, and reactions to, countries where I've also journeyed.

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