Fiction Marie-Elena John Unburnable: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780060837570

Unburnable: A Novel

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9780060837570: Unburnable: A Novel

In this riveting narrative of family, betrayal, vengeance, and murder, Lillian Baptiste is willed back to her island home of Dominica to finally settle her past. Haunted by scandal and secrets, Lillian left Dominica when she was fourteen after discovering she was the daughter of Iris, the half-crazy woman whose life was told of in chanté mas songs sung during Carnival: Matilda Swinging and Bottle of Coke; songs about a village on a mountaintop and bones and bodies; songs about flying masquerades and a man who dropped dead. Lillian knew the songs well. And now she knows these songs -- and thus the history -- belong to her. After twenty years away, Lillian returns to face the demons of her past, and with the help of Teddy, the man she refused to love, she will find a way to heal.

Set partly in contemporary Washington, D.C., and partly in post-World War II Dominica, Unburnable weaves together West Indian history, African culture, and American sensibilities. Richly textured and lushly rendered, Unburnable showcases a welcome and assured new voice.

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About the Author:

Antigua native Marie-Elena John graduated as the City College of New York’s first black woman valedictorian and later earned a master’s degree from Columbia University. A former Africa development specialist, she lives with her husband and two children in Washington, D.C., and Antigua.

From Publishers Weekly:

John takes readers into Caribbean culture and contemporary black America to explore family and oppression in this affecting but flawed debut novel. Lillian, a 30-something native of Dominica, now an activist in Washington, D.C., suffered a breakdown at 14 after discovering the identity of her birth mother, Iris: the beautiful, insane village prostitute whose own mother, the famous healer Matilda, was convicted of multiple murder and hung. Sent to live with her aunt in New York, Lillian grows up shielded from her history, avoiding troubling questions about herself and keeping friends distant. Her only real friend is Teddy Morgan, a self-absorbed historian she's pined after since their college days. Twenty years after leaving Dominica, Lillian is determined to return, in hopes of learning what happened to her mother, grandmother and herself—and she's determined to bring Teddy with her. John switches between Lillian's present day and the mid-century lives of Matilda and Iris, who are warm, vibrant characters and a welcome contrast to Lillian's gloom-and-doom. Aloof from the outset, it's never clear why, after 20 years without contact, Lillian wants to investigate her past, and her calculated manipulation of Teddy makes her hard to feel for. However, strong writing and interesting supporting characters should keep readers occupied through the end. (Apr.)
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