As a young man of twenty, Thomas Inkle sets out for Barbados to inspect the family sugar estates. On the way he is shipwrecked on a small West Indian island inhabited by Black Caribs. He alone escapes as his shipmates are slaughtered, and is rescued by Yarico, a Carib woman who takes him as, 'an ideal, strange and obliging lover.' So begins an erotic encounter, explored with poetic, imaginative intensity, which has a profound effect on both.
Amongst the Caribs, Inkle is a mere child, whose survival depends entirely on Yarico's favour and protection. But when he is rescued and taken with Yarico to the slave island of Barbados, she is entirely at his mercy.
Inkle and Yarico is loosely based on a 'true' story which became a much repeated popular narrative in the 17th and 18th centuries. Beryl Gilroy reinterprets its mythic dimensions from both a woman's and a black perspective, but above all she engages the reader in the psychological truths of her characters' experiences.
As an old man, Inkle recalls the Carib's stories as being like 'fresh dreams, newly washed, newly woven and true to the daily lives of the community'. Inkle and Yarico has the same magic and pertinence. As a narrative of deep historical insight into the commodification and abuse of humanity, Gilroy lays the past bare as a text for the present.
Phyllis Briggs-Emmanuel writes in The Caribbean Writer: 'Although Gilroy reworks an old legend. she brings to it her own inimitable style. Her characters live and breathe as the reader is transported back to an earlier time which she meticulously describes. It is evident that Gilroy has done painstaking and accurate research to allow her to recreate Carib society and life in early Barbados. This is a thoughtful, insightful novel written with a delicacy of feeling that clearly puts the reader "in the picture".