"This is the first novel by Entel, and it is a magnificent one. Her prose is lyrical, luminous, and each detail has been planted as precisely as a foundation stone." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"This richly imagined work from a Cornell College professor of African American and Caribbean literature features a maid at a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation. By night, she digs around, discovering artifacts that unearth the island’s past while speaking loudly to its increasingly tense present. 'Beautifully descriptive.'"
Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
"Entel’s novel is brilliant. Through a series of strategic narrative choices, she both inhabits and interrogates the island she created, demonstrating how fiction can expand a reader’s empathy and, even, a writer’s authority."
Elizabeth Mosier, Cleaver Magazine
"Rebecca Entel writes with spellbinding intelligence and a deep knowledge of the human heart. Her writing is true and exquisite, serious and fun." Lorrie Moore
“Entel’s delicately crafted debut explores the relationships between the resort, an economic center that distorts the island’s history for its own purposes, and the local people and the ways the past infuses the present, no matter how hard one tries to forget. Entel gives Myrna a distinctive voice and creates a rich history for the island and its residents.” – Booklist
" Fingerprints of Previous Owners simmers with implicit and explicit violence, with social and economic injustices, the dichotomy of a hotel so crassly extravagant that it throws away good food daily while locals brew tea from wild leaves or eat whatever the poor soil can grow. Beautifully written, it is bleak, stark; as uncompromising as the island’s soil and as wrenching as the haulback shrubs that guard its secrets. Audacious, heartfelt and realistic, I found myself immersed in the perverted paradise of this island world, rooting for the characters I came to care so much about." Maxine Case
Despite abolition, slavery leaves behind a traumatic legacy for descendants that often includes marginalization and systemic racism. These aspects are creatively highlighted by Entel (African American and Caribbean literature, Cornell Univ.) in her debut novel, which tells the story of Myrna, who works as a maid at a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation. By night, the curious young woman explores the resort's neglected areas to learn more about the history of its servants. She finds items discarded by the American tourists she serves as well as artifacts left from the days of the plantation. Her greatest discovery is a journal that carefully documents the time of slavery, becoming the catalyst for further investigation into the lives of her family members. One of the novel's most effective components is the weaving of multigenerational and intercontinental relationships among the islanders and Americans who have a history with Furnace Island, where the story takes place. The sometimes fragmented sentences may be difficult for some to follow, but most passages are beautifully descriptive. VERDICT Of special interest to readers of Caribbean and historical fiction but with general appeal.—Ashanti White, Fayetteville, NC
A young woman unearths the violent history of her Caribbean home. Nobody on Myrna's island talks about the place's past: plugged deep in the Caribbean, it once housed a plantation owned by a man named Cruffey, along with his slaves. Most of the island's current black-skinned residents, Myrna included, are descendants of those slaves. Many of them share Cruffey's last name. To talk about that past is verboten; to visit the ruins of the estate, even more so. In any case, those ruins have long since been overgrown by brush. Now, the focal point of the island is the tourist resort that has taken over most of it. Wealthy white patrons lounge by the pool, their backs to the sea. Myrna works as a maid. Whenever a new boatload of visitors arrives, she and the rest of the staff play out a troubling diorama. The white workers dress up as Columbus; the black workers, descendants of slaves, dress up as "natives"—none of whom have survived to the present day. This is the first novel by Entel, a professor of African-American and Caribbean literature at Cornell, and it is a magnificent one. Her prose is lyrical, luminous, and each detail has been planted as precisely as a foundation stone. Myrna begins spending her evenings struggling through the brush to the island's interior, where the ruins are located. The way is difficult. Her skin and clothes are snagged by thorns. She hardly knows what she's looking for. Then, one day, a black American woman shows up, a tourist, with a large book Myrna soon catches sight of: The Cruffey Plantation Journal: 1833. It's the most explicit reference to the island's past Myrna has come across. As Myrna pursues the book and the ghosts of the island's past, long-buried tensions begin to rise. The dioramas staged by the resort staff grow crueler, more violent. In a way, Myrna's project echoes Entel's larger one: both Myrna and Entel seek to unearth a long-buried history; both of them seek to give voice to those who have been silenced. Here's hoping that Entel follows her first novel with many more. A reckoning with the legacies of colonialism and slavery and their reverberations in the present day.