In Castaway Yvette Christianse presents a masterfully written poetic story that weaves together the multiple histories of St. Helena, an island off the coast of South Africa.Specifically, Christianse expresses the history of St. Helena as a place of exile, slavery, and, finally, as the place of her grandmother’s birth. Christianse does not handle these several voices and moments of history as completely separate, but rather draws them together as threads in a single patterned cloth with obvious care for each and a creative vision for the final whole. For instance, throughout the seemingly fragmented collection of poetry are subtle reoccurring images, tying all the poems together. In one poem, Christianse presents the image of an apple, which had sat in a pantry and “gathered its sweetness like a bride and groom in the weeks before they are allowed to touch.” This image reappears in a poem much later in the collection through the simple lines: “the scent of apples left in/ the pantry months ago.”Although these second lines are much plainer, the idea of a sweet bride and groom remains in the mind of the reader and is released into the new poem, making Christianse’s writing sensory and constantly surprising. This is Christianse’sgreatest achievement with Castaway, as the book creates a world that represents a history of Africa, capturing traces of colonialism, oppression, and then the rise of a contemporary African identity. Castaway is ultimately an anthem of power that builds itself out of both the past—colonial rule, the apartheid—and the present, concluding with an authorial female voice that breaks free from the threads of oppressive history and beings to fashion her own identity.
Castwaywas a finalist in the 2001 PEN International Poetry Prize. Christianse’s other works include the novel Unconfessed, the story of a slave woman in the Cape Colony, and Imprendehora(published in South Africa by Kwela Books/Snail Press 2009),another book of poetry.