When Pearline leaves her life in Brooklyn and returns to her childhood home of Jamaica to care for her dying father, Rupert, she leaves her grown daughter to cope, overwhelmed, with her granddaughter back in Brooklyn. Yet Pearline feels called to return to her childhood home and soon dives deep into her family of origin.
Ostracized by her sisters for moving to America decades earlier and only coming "home" due to their father's imminent passing, Pearline must assert her own familial identity as she strives to hold onto the family's home over her sisters' objections. Always lurking in the back of Pearline's mind is her family's traumatic past in Cuba, where Rupert had sought a better life and where four of Pearline's siblings remained when the rest of the family left for Jamaica, including one who was lost for good.
In lush, lyrical prose inspired by the author's own family story, this novel explores the divided loyalties within a family, the true meaning of home, and what one woman has to sacrifice to get what she ultimately wants.
A 2020 Great Group Reads selection
Named a Best Book of the Week by New York Post
Featured in Ms Magazine's June 2020 Reads for the Rest of Us
Featured in LitHub's 5 Books You May Have Missed in June
Winner of the Lignum Vitae Una Marson Award for Adult Literature
A seventeen-year-old taken from her mother at birth, an Episcopal priest with a daughter whose face he cannot bear to see, a mother weary of searching for her lost child: Tea by the Sea is their story—that of a family uniting and unraveling. To find the daughter taken from her, Plum Valentine must find the child’s father who walked out of a hospital with the day-old baby girl without explanation. Seventeen years later, weary of her unfruitful search, Plum sees an article in a community newspaper with a photo of the man for whom she has spent half her life searching. He has become an Episcopal priest. Her plan: confront him and walk away with the daughter he took from her. From Brooklyn to the island of Jamaica, Tea by the Sea traces Plum’s circuitous route to finding her daughter and how Plum’s and the priest’s love came apart.
As she washes her laundry in the Rio Minho, Kelithe is startled from her daydreams by women's screams. It is not until she sees a small body in the shallow water that she realizes what has happened. Her young son has drowned. The Women of Standfast, Jamaica, whisper that she let Timothy die so that she could seize her chance to join her mother in America. Numb with grief, Kelithe lacks the strength to confront them. She can only wait for the funeral. And for her mother to come stand by her at last.
What really happened at the river? It is a question Kelithe's mother cannot ask and an accusation Kelithe will not answer. And it lies at the heart of this shattering novel of promises kept and broken. In spare prose, Donna Hemans lays bare the human heart, exploring the unyielding bonds joining mother and child and the many facets of truth.