I will always remember with great fondness my holiday to Mauritius, back in 2019. It was the first time I visited an African island and I was mesmerized by its beautiful scenery and the welcomeness of its residents. So when I had the opportunity to read a story with the action happening in Madagascar, a neighbouring island of Mauritius, I was fully up for it!

Reading time in Mauritius, with a beautiful frangipani flower. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of that amazing holiday 🙂

Red Island House In a nutshell

The red thread of the story follows the development of a 20+ year marriage between Shay, an African American professor, and Senna, her wealthy Italian husband. The Red House, their idyllic holiday residence in Madagascar, plays a central role in their lives, as the two characters are deeply influenced by the time spent on the island.

However, the marriage topic is not the key aspect of the book, but rather the foundation on which the other elements are build on – a wide variety of stories about the culture of the Malagasy people, as seen through the eyes of a foreigner.

Overall impression

As I love travelling and discovering new cultures, this book came at a time when I needed it the most – during the travelling restrictions due to the Covid19 pandemic. (Un)fortunately, my escape to Madagascar lasted only few days, as I enjoyed a lot reading the story and I finished it very quickly the 250+ pages 🙂

“Red Island House” is a full immersion in the culture of Madagascar, as each new chapter brings into spotlight another facet of the island’s heritage. At the same time, the development of Shay and her learnings about the island maintain an interesting contrast between locals and foreigners and illustrates at least 2 important aspects:

  1. how much people are influenced by the environment they come from
  2. the need to respect and adapt to the culture and beliefs of the place you’re visiting

Stories from the island

“Red Island House” is structured as a collection of stories. Each chapter presents a different story connected to the Malagasy culture, connected to the Red House as central element of the whole book.

Some stories are mystical – for example the story about the first years of the Red House or the story about a wise local woman. Other stories tackle the less-magical side of the island – the nightlife scene developed for tourists or the fatherless children of foreign white men and local black women.

Back to the roots

What I also find interesting is that Shay, the main character of the story, has herself African heritage. This puts her in a different position compared to the white tourists of Madagascar, as Shay feels closer to the Malagasy people.

However, the more she experiences first-hand the local culture and social dynamics, the more she realizes that she is a foreigner, a privileged American that cannot fully absorb the beliefs of her ancestors. Once again, it illustrates how much people are influenced by the environment they come from.


There is something magical about islands, and this book about Madagascar’s heritage proves once again this point. “Red Island House” tells captivating stories of marriage and identity, love and loyalty, destiny and freedom. If you love discovering new cultures or you’re interested in African heritage, this book is definitely a great option!

What books about African cultures or set in African settings would you recommend reading? I’d love to read you thoughts in the comments section!

‘Till next time … happy reading!


PS: I received a digital copy of this book in September 2020 at my request, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. My review expresses my own thoughts about the story and it is not influenced in any way by the publisher or the author. The book will be published on March 23rd, 2021.

7 thoughts on “Heritage of Madagascar seen through the eyes of foreigners: Red Island House by Andrea Lee (book review)

      1. I think the one thing that throws people off is that it’s pretty unclear what exactly is fiction and what is nonfiction, but if that doesn’t bother you, then you should enjoy it. I found it quite interesting and informative.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That does not bother me at all! I actually find it a great way to learn about new things, especially when it comes to historical events. Of course, these stories have to be treated with care, to not transform the fiction part into your “own reality”. That’s why I usually research about the reality depicted in the story after reading the book, to better understand what were facts and what was fiction.


      3. Good idea. I just finished a novel set in Cuba when they were fighting for independence from Spain. This is a time period I did not know about, but everything in the novel was clear. I’m going to do some research as to what happened, because my first question was, “Who the heck was in Cuba before Spanish-speaking people?”

        Liked by 1 person

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