If you watched the movie based on the true story, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and enjoyed the chemistry between Rebecca Skloot and Deborah Lacks (played by Rose Byrne and Oprah Winfrey respectively) then I may have your next read.
The Last Warner Woman
Though fictional, The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller is both believable and poetic. Every other chapter in the novel devotes itself to either the story of Adamine Bustamante, who is searching for truths about her mother and herself, or Mr. Writer Man, determined to learn about Adamine’s past and write a book about her as the last Warner Woman left in Jamaica (and then England.)
This novel is rich with Jamaican folklore, with tales of Anansi the Spider, Papa Legba (whom you may remember from American Horror Story Season 3), and revivalism.
Because Jamaica is a colonized nation, Adamine struggles with her Anglo-Jamaican identity. Before she emigrated from Jamaica, her life was rich with magic, revivalism, and her own warnings of natural disaster and doom that others were smart to heed. But almost the minute she steps into England she is thrown in an insane asylum.
Although sometimes the novel is dark, it’s not without its doses of whimsy. The beginning of the novel revolves around being a mother (especially strong, mother-like figures) and the hilarity and stubbornness that accompanies motherhood.
Also interesting is the way in which Adamine tells her piece of the story. Though her chapters are written down in the physical book, The Last Warner Woman, it’s clear that she’s utilizing the oral story-telling format. Each of her chapters begins: “an installment of a testimony spoken to the wind shhhhhhhhhh” (Miller).
Adamine speaks in a gentle Jamaican vernacular that is both appealing and powerful. One example is the way she expresses her feelings after Mr. Writer Man has told a piece of his story. She says of it, “Is lie” (Miller, 82). Have you ever heard that the sentence “Jesus wept” is so powerful despite being so short? I like this version better.
Kei Miller’s Poetry
The Last Warner Woman is quite poetic. In fact, Kei Miller is skilled in the art (see video below). However, readers who enjoy the creative and literary side of novels may find themselves attracted to Adamine’s story, while those who demand straight answers and details will favor Mr. Writer Man’s narrative. So, there is something there for everyone, and yet both pieces fit together quite nicely.
Mr. Writer Man
As Mr. Writer Man tracks down details of Adamine’s life he finds that he is learning about himself and truths about the way of the world as well. The character development is intriguing here because Kei Miller must show Mr. Writer Man’s growth only through the development of his own (Mr. Writer Man’s) novel about Adamine.
Obviously I won’t divulge the ending, but I will say that avid readers will particularly enjoy it. There’s a whole meditation at the end on what reading and writing really means, and of course there is a lovely twist.
So I will leave off here with a quick quote that can be found on the back of your copy of The Last Warner Woman, which is this by The Independent: “Miller is a name to watch.”
Indeed he is.