Review

An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude

by Ann Vanderhoof



For the stressed out and winter-weary comes this transporting
memoir that will appeal directly to escapist fantasies about
leaving the work world behind and taking up residence in the
nearest tropical locale. In AN EMBARRASSMENT OF MANGOES, the author
and her husband do just that, and this enchanting, sun-drenched
book intimately chronicles their life-changing two-year odyssey
around the Caribbean aboard their sailboat Receta.

Prior to the trip, Ann and Steve Vanderhoof were driven,
forty-something professionals whose lives were dominated by
demanding careers and a seemingly endless string of deadlines.
This, coupled with their increasing weariness of harsh Toronto
winters, made them long for a different way of life --- one that
was far removed from overstuffed day timers and driveways that
needed shoveling. Their escape fantasy began to form into a
full-fledged action plan of penny pinching and preparation that
eventually enabled them to live out their dream.

After setting sail, the cruising life quickly seduces them as they
discover the pleasures of living one day at a time and basking in
simple delights such as fiery sunsets, freshly caught seafood and
ice cold Presidente beers. But life onboard the boat isn't always
smooth sailing as new challenges quickly take the place of old
workaday worries: Tropical storms, perilous ocean crossings, the
frequent threat of hurricanes and the daily struggle of living in
tiny quarters with another human being for months on end are just a
few of the trip's hazards. Nonetheless, the trade-off in exchange
for a whole new way of life proves to be more than worth it.

During their two-year voyage of discovery, the Vanderhoofs cover
7,000 nautical miles and explore forty-seven Caribbean islands,
stretching from the Bahamas to as far south as Grenada. More than
just tourists, they immerse themselves in the hypnotic rhythms of
Caribbean life and culture, befriending the locals and soaking up
the distinct music, flavors and essence of each port of call.

Vanderhoof's particular passion for cooking infuses the text with a
cacophony of delicious tastes and smells from the savory island
dishes that she and her husband encounter, many of which she
recreates in the ship's tiny galley using a variety of indigenous
local ingredients discovered along the way. Peppered throughout the
book are the results of her culinary explorations in the form of
authentic, mouth-watering recipes for local specialties such as
Bahamian cracked conch and West Indian rum punch. In addition to
the gastronomic pleasures offered up, the profusion of sights,
sounds and colors that leap from the page provide a veritable feast
for the senses as well.

Indeed, the book's biggest strength lies in Vanderhoof's
extraordinary powers of description and her ability to make us feel
as though we, too, are there. Under the spell of her ripe,
evocative prose we can easily call to mind the heady perfume of
mangoes in a marketplace, the sweet taste of fresh coconut milk on
a hot day, and the dazzling colors of a Caribbean sunset streaked
against a turquoise horizon. Interwoven with the sensuous
depictions of lush scenery are the author's richly textured
portraits of the colorful island inhabitants and fascinating
snippets of local lore. Each of the islands has a distinct and
varied personality, which Vanderhoof captures with beautiful
lucidity.

She uses this same keen blend of awareness and insight to chronicle
the transformations that she and her husband undergo during the
journey. As they overcome challenges, gain new skills and face
their fears, their nervousness gives way to confidence and they
grow in ways that they never could have imagined back home. In
fully giving themselves over to a new way of life, their voyage
becomes as much one of personal discovery as one of cultural and
culinary adventure. This winning combination is what makes this
island-by-island, meal-by-meal guide to the Caribbean so delicious
to savor.

Reviewed by Joni Rendon on January 21, 2011

An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude
by Ann Vanderhoof

  • Publication Date: January 13, 2004
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Travel
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway
  • ISBN-10: 0767914023
  • ISBN-13: 9780767914024