All That You Can Leave Behind – a young Expat’s tale of life in the Caribbean

As most Caribbean immigrants know all too well, leaving the familiar ground of your island-home and culture behind to settle in metropolitan pastures like North America and the UK can be a harrowing experience. Often you end up feeling lost and overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness and alienation.

Conversely, what is it like for foreigners opting to live and work in the Caribbean?

David Thyssen, a writer from the Netherlands, has penned a new book entitled All That You Can Leave Behind which tells the story of 13-year old Sage who lives with his mother on a remote French island in the Caribbean. His experience is a far cry from the idyllic lifestyle that is frequently propagated in the travel brochures with their glossy images of tourists frolicking on the beaches, enjoying the scenery and happily fraternizing with the natives.

From the outset, Sage becomes engulfed in a world of mind-numbing loneliness and isolation. He and his mother live in a rented house near the beach in a remote spot with a few big houses around and a small hotel, but they’re all walled in.

His mother smokes pot and is having an affair with a local guy named Leo. Most of the time they’re high on weed and they both ignore Sage, and spend very little time at home.

Sage grows up believing that his birth was a mistake. “I was an accident, neither of my parents wanted kids but I happened to get born so then they were stuck with me,he laments.

He doesn’t go to school because he can’t speak French. Besides, his mother didn’t do the necessary paperwork for his enrolment. He has no friends and can’t relate to the few people who flit in and out of his life, including his mother. He’s forced to spend most of his time at home in his room or alone on the beach swimming and surfing.

It’s a hellish experience for a youth who, by nature, loves to talk but can’t find any friends his age since moving to the island. He makes up for it by chatting with lizards and playing with a couple of stray dogs he picked up and turned into his pets. Memories of his father whom he left back home in California bring no relief. “I’m fucking scared to death of him,” he confesses. His father leads a shady life, is a heavy drinker and frequently beat the living daylights out of him. He’s been to jail and is a repeat offender. Sage is also tormented by memories of the rape he suffered at the hands of his uncle.

Meanwhile, with each passing day, he and his mother drift further and further apart. This causes him to feel more neglected and intensifies his hatred for her, even though deep inside he knows he still loves her.

Sage finds solace by blogging. He owns a stolen laptop which his father gave to him and, whenever he gets the opportunity, he records his day-to-day experiences and trials. His blogs form the building blocks of the story which is narrated in the first person through a series of posts laying bare Sage’s soul and giving his readers a graphic view inside the mind of a deeply troubled teen. That’s the reason why the identity of the island is not disclosed; a 13-year old telling the sort of heart-wrenching story that Sage tells would not want to disclose his location online. There’s also the possibility that the secrets he reveals about his past and his family could have disastrous repercussions for him and the persons involved. He can’t even let his mother know what he’s doing on the net for fear she confiscates his laptop and further isolates him.

Sage also finds release by cutting himself. “I feel good while I cut, but right after I always feel shitty,” he explains. He has a box with a bunch of knives, a razorblade and a piece of glass with a sharp edge which he uses to do the cutting. He seems to be well on the way to self–destruction.

Through it all, the island is mostly used as a backdrop for the story. It is also employed as a metaphor for isolation because of the limitations that living there poses on Sage. Thyssen, however, is careful to point out that, while there, Sage is exposed to living standards that were not available to him in California. For the first time he lives in a real house with a yard all around, rather than in hotels and apartments. The scenery is enchanting and he finds the ocean view and sunsets “awesome.” These perceptions come slowly and painstakingly. He also meets a local family from whom he gains a new perspective on life, such as he has never experienced before.

Ultimately, instead of blaming the island for his troubles, Sage comes to the realisation that he can only take control of his life and move forward by putting the past behind him.

All That You Can Leave Behind packs a powerful punch. David Thyssen succeeds in capturing the teenage voice of Sage with striking authenticity and a down-to-earth candour that is not untypical of America’s urbanized youths, down to their idiom and street talk.

Through the tortured mind of Sage he provides a revelatory glimpse into the hearts of many troubled youths who have been deeply scarred, and struggle with all manner of internal demons unleashed on them by parental neglect, the misunderstanding of adults and a largely cold and uncaring world.

“I don’t give a shit about life, or even want to live. Just give me one good reason why I should have a desire to live. Life just sucks. Period,” says Sage. And he’s just 13.

At some points in the narrative there is a bit of repetition and one gets the sense of déjà vu. At the same time, it works on another level by amplifying Sage’s pain and his devastating loneliness, and somehow makes the story more impactful.

All That You Can Leave Behind is an inspirational story of redemption and a moving testimony to the innate human drive for life and our unrelenting quest for love and acceptance.

David Thyssen chilling in St Barths

David Thyssen, 44, was born in the Netherlands. A few years ago, at the height of a successful career as a television cameraman, he decided to move to the Caribbean to pursue his dream of “living a life like Sandy in Flipper.” He has since lived on two different islands. He also stayed briefly in Florida.  Currently a father, he now lives in St. Barths where he spends much of his time surfing and writing.

He has written three novels and six feature screenplays. His first novel, Painting By Numbers is set in central Florida. One of the passages of the book is set in the Caribbean, like most of his other work.

“While I’ve been writing all my life and wanted to be a writer as young as 10, I’ve really only been writing more seriously since my arrival in the islands,” says Thyssen. “At the time I wrote All That You Can Leave Behind I lived on Guadeloupe. While I did not live in the Caribbean as a child, nor was I born in California, Sage’s story is as close as an autobiography as I will ever write … I first published this story as a ‘reality-blog’ in 2005, which attracted a lot of attention by readers of all ages, and rave reviews.”

Thyssen is one of a swelling tide of authors (including several bestselling writers) who are bravely taking their future into their own hands and braving the seas of indie publishing. In searching for a home for his latest book, he threw his lot in with Smashwords, the free ebook publishing and distribution platform for indie authors and small publishers that continues to gain kudos from writers and readers throughout the world.

“I think Smashwords is a great alternative to sites like Amazon and Lulu,” says Thyssen. “Smashwords is really great as a one-stop publishing place which places your work on all the other major outlets as well, like the Apple store and Barnes & Noble. One thing I think is really important for sites like Smashwords is how they communicate with their writers. They’re really great with this – you send an email and get a reply from the boss, and quickly.”

He added: “Another feature I like on Smashwords is the ability to send out free copies of your books by using coupons. You can also temporarily lower the price of your book to promote it. I’m looking forward to seeing them grow and become a bigger player. I hope that, once they grow, they will keep the direct line of communication open because this is something the bigger sites like Amazon really lack.”

All That You Can Leave Behind is also available as a Kindle edition at Amazon has not been added to Smashwords distribution list as yet, so Thyssen opted to approach them himself.

All That You Can Leave Behind
Amazon Kindle Store:

Painting by Numbers

You can check out David Thyssen on Facebook and MySpace

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