Black and White Sands: A Bohemian Life in the Colonial Caribbean by Elma Napier - review by Diana Quick

Diana Quick

Dear Dominica

Black and White Sands: A Bohemian Life in the Colonial Caribbean


Papillote Press 260pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

Elma Napier wrote this book in the early 1960s about the choice she and her second husband made in 1924 to settle on the small Windward Island of Dominica. They were both already living outside the pale of conventional British society. Elma's father had been ostracised from the Prince of Wales's circle as a result of the Tranby Croft affair, accused of cheating at backgammon, and though the grand family estates included the house that was to become famous later as Gordonstoun, she was a 'mere' girl, left to run wild on the moors, falling in love first with a married man and then later running a sheep farm in the Australian outback. Two children later, she fell in love with Lennox Napier, who was returning home after spending some time amongst the artistic community of Tahiti that had included Gauguin. A businessman, he trailed a whiff of adventure and exoticism, and as she says, came from 'the world that reads the New Statesman'. She got divorced, sacrificing custody of her two children, and married him. After some years back in Britain his weak lungs dictated that they should seek warmer climes. 

Lennox survived for another eight years only, but Elma was to become part of the establishment of the rainforested island, the people of which, though impoverished, had a strong sense of independence. No one starves in Dominica, which is extremely fertile. Its green heights had been a sanctuary

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Incomparible Monsignor

Kafka Drawings

Follow Literary Review on Twitter