Life & Culture

An unexpectedly Jewish treasure island sure to keep you completely hooked on the beach this summer


Welcome to Glorious Tuga

By Fransesca Segal

Chatto & Windus, £18.99

For a novel set on an imaginary island so remote reaching it requires several weeks’ travel, Francesca Segal’s new book is unexpectedly Jewish. Fictional Tuga, a hot and stormy south Atlantic idyll, is apparently populated by the descendants of Brazilian Jews, half the characters have names such as Mendoza and are familiar with the Ladino language, while island kids terrify each other with stories of dybbuks. There’s even a moshav, for some inexplicable reason, and residents drop in random Hebrew phrases, just as Sacha Baron Cohen did as Borat.

No matter. This is world conjuring at its best. By the end of Welcome to Glorious Tuga, I longed to ship off halfway round the world, just to catch sight of the quirky, good-hearted residents of this picturesque paradise, where all the men are hunks and it’s so safe and friendly nobody locks their doors. It’s basically a novelised version of Stars Hollow, the small town in Gilmore Girls.

Segal, who enjoyably skewered the pretensions of north London Jews in 2012 with her Edith Wharton update The Innocents, has written a faultless beach read. The plot is ridiculous: a London veterinary scientist transplanted to this remote spot to study tortoises, various animal-related catastrophes, a family mystery to solve and a good few strapping men to lust after (plus an inconvenient fiancé acting as a stumbling block on the path to happily ever after). It’s all fun and silly, crafted with just the right level of intrigue and character minutiae to keep you hooked.

Segal examines what life must be like for those for whom an island is both home and cage; the locals who never have the opportunity to find their own way, and the mothers who want more for their children. Sensible, brilliant-minded Charlotte and the dashing doctor Dan Zekri both have demons to battle with. Still, for an island where the weather alone can mean life or death, the stakes are relatively low – no bad decision seems to reverberate beyond the next chapter. It doesn’t matter. Reading this in rainy London, it was like having sand between my toes and a cocktail in my hand. Fun and joyous; Segal was moved to write it as an “escape hatch” and she has more than succeeded.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive