I just finished Unburnable by first-time novelist Marie-Elena John from Antigua. Although the novel does have its shortcomings, it was overall a fascinating look into the complexities of Caribbean culture and the legacy of slavery, colonialism, and West African culture on the people who today inhabit the West Indies. The story takes place in both my hometown of Washington, DC and in the island of Dominica, and in a sense also compares and contrasts the Caribbean and African American experiences. If you’re interested in any of the aforementioned, I definitely recommend it. Here is a sample from Unburnable:

For the next century or more, these Caribbean women, with their disinterest in marrying their children’s fathers, would generate a steady traffic in befuddled missionaries, curious sociologists, and excited anthropologists. Official terms would be coined. Visiting unions. That was what the scholars called the Caribbean way of making babies: the men would visit the various homes of their women and children; they did not live with them. And when that man stopped visiting for his union, the women would unite with another visitor to have his children. Female-headed households and matrifocal societies — these were the catchwords with which the pundits would discuss the phenomenon of Caribbean women raising children without the yoke of the men. Theories would be put forward as to why they did this, studies were undertaken, and the scholars would line up into two antagonistic camps. One set would say that it was all about handed-down African culture, and that the visiting unions phenomenon was essentially an adapted version of polygamy. The other group would blame the laws that had prevented slaves from marrying and from staying together as a family.

All the big-brained people with their theories, their arguments and counterarguments, should have just talked to the women to understand that the reason they did not marry was a simple matter. Descendants of slaves, of course, had a natural aversion to slavery.


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