I’m not in Belize for more than a day when I am ready to drop everything and relocate there. I love the jungle, the caves, the thatched roofs, rising waters, wildlife, and the complete lack of people. I also like waterfront places to stay, pink hotels, and drinking rum with strangers. Belize is most definitely my kind of place, so much so that I still harbor a dream of retiring there, or just working there during the cold months in New York.
I was excited to read Nancy R. Koerner’s novel, Belize Survivor: Darker Side of Paradise, because it’s about a woman who acted on her own dream: living in Key West and then moving to Belize in the 1970s. I relished the descriptions of rustic living in a Belize that, I imagine, wasn’t really all that different than it is today—just a bit less populated and somewhat less developed.
Of course, it’s not hard to figure out from the title that this particular dream didn’t work out. The work, based on a true story, describes an independent spirit who unfortunately chose the wrong man to marry, who unfortunately stayed when he became violent, who unfortunately found the Belizean legal system not to her liking.
The main character, Alexis, is an entrepreneur, building a jewelry business and later running a horseback-riding operation for tourists, is self-sufficient in so many ways. Why she opts to stay with a brute of a man still eludes me. Once the children arrive, I understand her dilemma—she may have to sacrifice them if she wants to escape alive.
The book reads to me like a journal that was pieced together to form something of a narrative. I wish it had had a better edit, preferably by an editor willing to slash and burn big chunks of this. With a lot of tightening, this book could have been fantastic. As it is, the work provides an alluring story about someone who did pursue an alternative lifestyle in an exotic location; that life off the grid just didn’t work out so well. I wish there’d been more inquiry into the main character’s own flaws and her background—why was she so willing to remain in such a negative environment? Why was she such a doormat for so long? How could someone so creative and business-minded have let a man abuse her so completely?
The domestic violence element of the story is a strong reminder that the U.S. justice system isn’t universal. Protections we have here we aren’t necessarily afforded in different societies, in different circumstances, in different parts of the world.
Going on vacation, a visitor to Belize probably isn’t seeking a really intense read. This book is worth a look nevertheless. Belize is so alluring, relocating there can be tempting. Belize Survivor reminds anyone thinking of relocating to think before jumping. Dreams don’t work out for everyone. Belize is still worth taking the leap. Just know what you’re getting into.