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/, book cover photos by Stephen Bess


get zapped said...

Thank you, Stephen for sharing a glimpse into what seems to be a really good book. I just finished a fantastic book, "Eat, Pray, Love" and I will add "Unburnable" to my list for summer reading, thanks to you ;)

Crankyputz said...

Your the second person to reccomend this book, so I am definately going to pick it up...

May I reccomend, Edeet Ravel's "A Thousand Lovers"

Crankyputz said...

Or the poisonwood barbara Kingsolver

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Stephen,
It's a great read isn't it?
If any of your readers are interested, they can check out the "In My Own Words" that Elena did on my site.


Anonymous said...

Wooh...great. I was also looking for my next summer book. I recommend:

"A Sacred Place" by Daniel Black

"The Polished Hoe" by Austin Clarke

Peace, Stephen.

Translation Whitelist said...

You wouldn't want to overshadow a constant or a bestseller.

Never got to read it. I ponder, on its essence, though!

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

I read this review in a Caribbean airline mag. Looked for it in the bookstore here...nope, not here.

Your desire to travel to the Caribbean makes me think of how lots of folks here yearn to travel...not to the Caribbean...but to Canada, the USA, England.

Stephen A. Bess said...

Thank you. Yes, I really enjoyed this one. The description of the book you mentioned sounds wonderful as well. I'll have to check it out the next time I buy books. I don't need to buy anymore anytime soon. :)

Yes, Unburnable is a great read. Thanks for the suggestions.

Thanks for the link and the note to Marie-Elena. Peace~

Thank you and good to see your name man. :)

Thank you and welcome.

Yes, it's been a while since I've traveled to the Caribbean. I want to see other Islands besides The Bahamas and Jamaica. I know that all have their own distinct cultures and customs (give or take). I guess we all want to see something different than what we're used to seeing. I want to see Guyana too! :)

Fabrizio said...

It would be a great trip to Dominica!


Stephen A. Bess said...

Yes indeed. It would be a great trip to Italy too. Man, I'm ready to travel. :)

BronzeBuckaroo said...

Well, I now know the next book I will be purchasing through The book sounds like a page turner. Just by your words alone, I want to visit Dominica as well.

Lyrically speaking said...

I was initally attracted by the cover of this book when I stumbled upon it at Barnes and Nobles a few months back, then I went on Amazon and saved it in my favorites but never bothered to order it. I definitely need to get my copy soon, thanks for sharing this with us Mr. Bess

Dance_Soul said...

I am SO excited to be almost finished with my thesis. Its been so long since I could read a book without feeling guilty that it wasn't connected to my thesis. There is a LARGE list of books that I want to read. This is DEFINITELY going on the list. Its a perfect fit for my love of historical fiction. I used to read 10-15 books every summer. During my 3 week trip to Japan last summer I read 7 books - 2 of which I completed during the 13 hour plane ride there.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow! What a great review! I'll add this to my own list. I'm reading a book at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 and it is pretty good. It is actually non-fiction, but it's written like a novel. I love a good book with some historical information thrown in from time to time.

marie-elena said...

big thanks to err'ybody for the support and and especially to Stephen and Geoffrey who are doing great things out there in the blogsphere -- as Guyana Gyal noted, it was hard to find Unburnable in the bookstores after the initial shipments sold out (though now it's in paperback you can find it again for the moment, and they'll always order it in for you, takes a couple days) so without the Community support for new writers, we'd be doomed!
I see that many of you recommend books so I'll also suggest checking out the nominees for the Hurston-Wright Legacy awards, which are selected from the African Diaspora -- they list past winners as well. For this year's nominees, I highly recommend Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna and of course, Chimamanda Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun.
thanks again,

Stephen A. Bess said...

From the very first page. :)I think you'll enjoy it.

Good to see you and thank you.

You're quite the voracious reader. You will definitely have this one for lunch then. :) By the way, I'm jealous of your travel.

Same here. I love historical fiction. It holds my attention longer.

I really appreciate your kind words and for taking the time to respond to the readers. Yes, we must support each other. It's definitely from the heart. As for Geoffrey, I think it must be his ministry. :) I spoke to Colin Channer at a book signing and he had nothing but wonderful things to say about Geoffrey. Marie-Elena, thanks again and I'm looking forward to your next work.

black feline said...

will take note of this book...currently Im reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins...

Tropical Ties said...

Just finished it, thought it was a great book especially as I am Dominican. Got to your blog by the photo you posted on flickr. I had the same idea but your setting is much better than mine ;-).

Stephen A. Bess said...

Thank you and I hope you come back to visit. I'm also interested in what your going to post in the near future.

Anonymous said...

She is a beautiful lady!! This book sounds very interesting and sounds like something I should read!! Thanks, Stephen!

Lola Gets said...

This book does look interesting. Ill add it to my next Amazon purchase list!

Jean said...

J'aime beaucoup la profondeur de ce regard .
Personnalité intense !

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