Looking for a good book to lose yourself in while exploring St John or relaxing on one of her spectacular beaches?
Why not step back in time through stories of St John of old? Or, if you’d rather, live out an imagined adventure in a novel set amidst her shores and bays.
Enhance your own daydreams while losing yourself in one (or ALL!) of the many books penned by authors who hail from her emerald shores or came to them for inspiration. All have a story of St John to tell.
Here are a few recommendations to get you started, but the options are many. The beauty and magic of St John is inspiring new tales to be written every day.
The Night of the Silent Drums: A Narrative of Slave Rebellion in the Virgin Islands
Lonzo Anderson, author and amateur historian, spent 25 years researching the St. John slave revolt of 1733-1734. Traveling as far as Denmark to access archives, he also mastered reading over 8 languages to improve his research capabilities. Anderson describes the uprising as well as life on the sugar plantations with detail and accuracy. Fueled by his extensive research, he brings to life these true events and landmarks. Some of which are still present today! This book is a must read for anyone interested in the complex history of St. John and her people.
Before Our Time: An Oral History of St John
Janet Burton, St John native, tells us the stories of community members who “have been instrumental in passing on the culture and history of this special place”. Inspired to share her island as her Mother knew it, she paints a picture of a time when the roads were merely donkey trails and Cruz Bay was just a dock. A retired teacher and librarian, Burton wanted to pass down the gift of history to all, but especially to St John’s children. Her collection of stories and interviews are a capsule of simpler times. This novel is a treasure to the St John community and beyond.
Spotlighting our sister Island St Croix, Fireburn by Apple Gidley tells the story of an Anglo-Danish Woman, who inherits a plantation on St Croix in the late 1800’s. Upon her arrival on St Croix, she is confronted by the unrest of the plantation workers, who despite being emancipated in 1848, still work in unbearable conditions. It is amidst the rebellion that ensued from this and the challenges of a male dominated world that she finds love forbidden. Gidley’s book is described as rich in description and well researched. A real page turner.
Chuck Ball tells the adventures of several richly developed characters all centered around saving the eco-camp they all have come to love on St John. Bell himself spent time working on an eco-friendly resort on St John and draws from his own memories throwing in some lost treasure, romance, conspiracy and greed for good measure. Long time guests of St John, noted they loved being taken back to their own memories of St John as they read through the pages of Ball’s first Novel.
Jack Higgins’ compelling thriller begins when Henry Baker sets out on a deep-sea dive off the shores of St. John. Little does he know, he will discover a German U-boat lost at sea for almost half a century. It contains incriminating documents which would embarrass the British government if revealed to the world. Suddenly Baker is thrust into a whirlwind of spies, state secrets and those who will go to any extreme to ensure they stay a secret with the Virgin Islands as the stage. Another great read by Higgins, the reader can feel the thrill of the chase all while not moving an inch from their beach chair.
A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean
While not set on St John, this book tells a story typical to many transplants/dreamers of St John. A true story of a Vermont couple and authors, Melinda and Robert Blanchard, who threw convention to the wind and moved to Anguilla. The challenges and humorous mishaps of island life and amusing anecdotes surrounding an attempt to open a restaurant in “paradise” make for a good read in a hammock. If you ever dreamed of taking the jump and moving to St John or any Caribbean island, this easy read is a must.
Winter in Paradise: First of the “Paradise Trilogy”
For those who love St John and Elin Hilderbrand, you are in for a treat. This well-known author’s works are
usually set on her home island of Nantucket. Hilderbrand, who has retreated to St John annually for almost a decade to write many of her previous novels, released her first novel set on St John in 2018. In this first of a trilogy, we meet a wife and mother, who flies down to St John upon learning of her husband’s untimely death there. Upon arrival on the ferry dock of Cruz Bay, they begin to discover a secret life of her husband that she and her sons never knew about.
Things become even more complicated as the plot thickens and complex relationships are formed. St. John comes to life on the pages as you follow this saga and read Hilderbrand’s descriptions of familiar places and experiences. With a cliffhanger ending, I might suggest you go ahead and purchase the sequel, What Happens in Paradise at the same time.
Land of Love and Drowning: A Novel
Written by St. Thomas’ own award winning author, Tiphanie Yanique, thi novel is part reality, part fantastical. In the early 1900s, Denmark had just sold the Virgin Islands to the United States. This story begins as the territory begins to meander into a modern era. Here, we meet three siblings orphaned by a shipwreck. Yanique draws from her own family’s story as she weaves a lyrical tale encompassing all the ups and downs, secrets, love, turmoil and even island magic spanning three generations. As time marches on, the setting evolves with more and more outsiders designing the infrastructure of the once simpler Virgin Islands. Through this family’s saga, the author speaks to what we stand to lose, when we let someone else tell our story.
I hope that you can take some time to enjoy some of these rich tales of history, loss, love, tragedy and humor set in the Virgin Islands…Let us know if we are missing one of your favorites from this list and we will be sure to include it next time!
I, personally, am super excited to welcome Anna-Marie Old and her creative ideas to the team and I hope you all enjoyed her first piece as much as I did! I hope you will check out her full bio and check in for more of her thoughtful submissions in the future.
17 thoughts on “St John: Between the Pages”
I’ll add one! “Don’t Stop the Carnival” is Herman Wouk’s 1965 novel supposedly set in St Thomas and based on Wouk’s real life experiences about buying a resort / hotel on a whim while on vacation in the Caribbean. I enjoyed it very much.
I forgot all about that book! I loved reading it!
I highly recommend Night of the Silent Drums as an accurate portrayal of unrest before and after the rebellion. Look for other good books detailing island life by local authors native born Guy Benjamin and blue ocean sailor Peter Muilenburg.
Peter Muilenburg’s books are wonderful and full of the beauty of St John. There are two: Adrift on a Sea of Blue Light and A Sea Dog’s Tale.
Theo two Hilderbrand books were really good. Also, “Keep Left” by I heal Thomas Mullen is a good STJ read.
Entertaining, but not about St. John history.
I’ll second A Sea Dog’s Tale – and recommend a Mountain Haven as a Coral Bay rental
where Santo’s was laid to rest.
St John People by Capt Fatty Goodlander
St John People – collection of authors
Any Fatty Goodlander STJ books
St John Life in Five Quarters – STJ Historical Society
****Grandma raised the roof – Ethel McCully *** must read
Guy Benjamins book – My Beloved Virgin
St John Backtime – A compilation
Here’s a good read “Vintage St John” by Valerie Sims 7 generations of family going back to the late 1800s to present day with family still in island today. Gives perspective on how the island was through difficult times and how it got to where it is today
A Tip to the Beach- Living on Island Time in the Caribbean is a wonderful read!
Daniel and the Jumbies by Jules is a great book for young readers. My son read it while on island and loved it.
Thanks for the great list, can’t wait to bring a few next time I visit. Love St John
Love Guy Benjamin’s book! Had the honor to meet him in his home before he died. Such a GREAT man!!
Dear Anna- Marie, My name is Doug Farrell and I and my wife , Kate have vacationed on St.John many times. We are so over due to return. We can’t wait. We fell in love with the
beauty of the island and it’s wonderful people. I wrote a children’s book in 2019 based on a Green Sea Turtle whose name is Humpy. The book can be purchased at Lulu.com and the title is Humpy Saves the Day. Of the initial sales, Idonated the first $500.00 to the Community Foundation of St.John. I think children love the art and simplistic vision of the book. Please let me know how I could promote the my book through this site. Thank you. Doug. P.s. I had sold some books at the Pink Papaya
Hi Anna Marie,
Trina and I are planning to be there in Nov. Can’t wait to see you and Wes again and to see how big Bourdain will be by then. Have a great weekend!!
Another good history read is David W Knight Sr’s Cruz Bay from Conquest to Exploitation a Forgotten History (2017) I bought my copy at Bajo El Sol Gallery & Art Bar–the Knights have a good selection of books.