Unravel the family secrets in 'Unburnable'


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 11:27 a.m.
Anyone who's survived a childhood with bumps and bruises inside and out knows that kids can be cruel.
A taunting rhyme, a made-up song, or a well-placed nyah-nyah-nyah has the ability to inflict wounds much worse than any fist or kick. The old "sticks and stones will break my bones" saying is definitely not true.
In Lillian's case, it's what she doesn't know that hurts her most, and in the new novel "Unburnable" by Marie-Elena John, Lillian returns to the place where she is born to confront the ghosts of her past.
Twenty years ago, when Lillian was 14, her stepmother hastened to send her to America to live with an aunt because on the tiny island of Dominica, Lillian couldn't get the kind of help she so desperately needed. Suicidal and outcast, Lillian needed to get away from her village, quickly.
What had prompted the wrist-slashing, the desecration of her mother's grave, and the hollowness of Lillian's eyes? Maybe it was because of the songs she heard, the ones that other children were cautioned never to sing in her presence, the story-songs that told of a terrible family secret.
Time has a way of healing, but while the years have soothed the hurt, they haven't endeared Lillian to her colleagues. She's got a reputation for being "difficult" and she wonders if that's because she never learned social skills or the art of conversation.
Her only real friend, she thinks, is Teddy, a man she's known since they were in college. Teddy, the man who has loved her since they were 18, the only man who ever truly made an attempt to understand her.
Now Lillian needs to ask a favor from her old friend. For weeks, she's been hearing the sounds of drums in her head. She has questions about the things she heard as a child, and scraps of memory have been dropping into her mind like shredded paper.f-z She needs to go to Dominica to learn the truth about her grandmother, Matilda, who the locals say was an Obeah-practicing murderess, and Lillian's mother, Iris, the woman they say was mad.
Unable to bear visiting Dominica alone, Lillian asks Teddy to go with her.
Filled with smoldering characters and ashen moods, "Unburnable" is a devastatingly beautiful book, filled with images of lush island forests, brutal masked rituals, and villagers who close ranks to protect their own.
Lillian is a troubled soul, but she's not really the main character in this book; her mother and grandmother, and the peripheral nun who holds the ties to their lives, are equally important in the story.
This is author Marie-Elena John's debut book, and I can't wait for the next one from this very talented writer.
If you're hot for a book you won't be able to put down, "Unburnable" is matchless.

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