The Bas-Thornton children (John, Emily, Edward, Rachel, and Laura) are raised on a plantation in Jamaica at an unspecified time after the emancipation of slaves in Britain (1837). It is a time of technological transformation, and sailing ships and steamers coexist on the high seas. A hurricane destroys their home, and the parents decide the children must leave the island to return to their original home in England. Accompanied by two creole children from Jamaica, Margaret and Harry Fernandez, they leave on the Clorinda, a merchant ship under the command of Captain Marpole. The Clorinda is seized by pirates shortly after leaving Jamaica.
Richard Hughes's celebrated short novel is a masterpiece of concentrated narrative. Its dreamlike action begins among the decayed plantation houses and overwhelming natural abundance of late nineteenth-century Jamaica, before moving out onto the high seas, as Hughes tells the story of a group of children thrown upon the mercy of a crew of down-at-the-heel pirates. A tale of seduction and betrayal, of accommodation and manipulation, of weird humor and unforeseen violence, this classic of twentieth-century literature is above all an extraordinary reckoning with the secret reasons and otherworldly realities of childhood.
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