Avatara (Avey) Johnson
Avatara (Avey) Johnson, an affluent, determined, and headstrong African American widow in her early sixties. She is driven, as the novel opens, to escape her two friends aboard a fifteen-day Caribbean vacation cruise and return home. Feeling compelled by memory, dreams, and the ill effects of a rich peach parfait dessert, Avey has packed her six suitcases in the middle of the night and has made arrangements to leave the majestic Bianca Pride at its next port of call and fly home to White Plains, New York. Always a strong-willed, self-possessed woman who has known precisely where she is going and what she is doing, throughout the novel Avey finds herself suddenly out of control, confronting her past through dreams and unbidden memories that shift her between the past and the present. An aunt long dead returns to haunt her; her late husband, Jerome, also returns to stand in disapproving judgment over her current, inexplicable, actions. Once on the island of Grenada, Avey discovers that she cannot immediately take a plane to New York. After an emotionally draining night, she begins to act on whim and impulse. Yielding to an invitation, almost a command, to accompany an old man she just met on a walk up the beach, Avey is persuaded to participate in a ritual excursion to the small outer island of Carriacou. Despite her fears and suspicions, she nevertheless agrees to go with Lebert Joseph and steps into a small weathered sailboat filled with islanders returning home, all strangers to her. The channel crossing proves both physically and emotionally challenging; however, after purging her body and her spirit, Avey finds the journey redemptive. She recognizes her ties to black people from Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States.
Jerome Johnson, Avey’s dead husband, a powerful presence in the novel. Jerome, called Jay in the early, warm days of their marriage, suffers a crisis and undergoes a metamorphosis during the marriage. He changes from Jay, a hardworking yet tender and playful husband and father, to the stern, driven, grimly-determined-to-succeed Jerome Johnson figure. Faced with all the economic and societal barriers raised against black men, Jerome...
(The entire section is 922 words.)