Monday, July 16, 2007

Unburnable: Marie-Elena John


I have just finished another book in my summer reading series. Unburnable, is the debut novel for Antiguan writer, Marie-Elena John. The story takes place between Washington, D.C. and Dominica. I was initially attracted to the book because of the DC connection. Instead, I took this wonderful journey to the Caribbean island of Dominica through the words and imagination of Marie-Elena John [Note: not to be confused with The Dominican Republic, but Dominica]. She may have single handedly increased tourism on the island through the writing of this novel. I mean, I want to go to Dominica!

Unburnable focuses on the lives of three women who are connected by blood, heritage, and pain. Matilda is the grandmother, who is also known in her mountain top community of "Noah" as the Obeah woman or traditional healer. She is feared by many because of her powers as an Obeah woman and is seen as evil by many. Iris is the daughter of Matilda, who is stigmatized from birth because of the reputation and mystique created by Matilda. Iris leads a tumultuous life at an early age and eventually gives birth to her daughter, Lillian. Lillian is separated from her the mother as a child and spends her formative years in America. However, the mysterious and violent lives of Lillian’s mother and grandmother soon catches up with her and she is compelled to find out the truth about her past, the past of Iris, and notably, Matilda.

Marie-Elena John graciously takes you inside the history and lives of the people in Dominica. You will visist the island’s original Carib people, who discovered Columbus when he arrived in 1493. Yes, be careful because you may actually learn something by reading this novel. Don’t worry. Marie-Elena weaves a wonderful tale that will also feed some of your thirst for sex and action, while simultaneously increasing your knowledge of Africa and the Caribbean. She explores the African heritage that has been preserved in the Caribbean for over a century through rituals and everyday life. She also touches on the similarities and divide that exist between Africans, Caribbeans, and African Americans here in America. Overall, Marie-Elena John has written a wonderful novel that entices and intrigues. It is a must read for this summer or anytime you want to take a trip to the beautiful island of Dominica.


Marie-Elena John previously worked as an African Development Specialist based in Washington DC for over a decade. She has traveled extensively throughout the continent of Africa. Marie-Elena has a husband and two children and divides her time between her native Antigua and Washington, D.C.
Photo Credits: photo of Marie-Elena/miamibookfair.com, book cover photos by Stephen Bess
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