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Unburnable

Best book of 2006
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Q & A

Why did you avoid a storybook ending?
Hate them.  Never get them in real life, so ....
anyway, even those who at first rebel against the way I ended it, tell me that after they sit down and think about it, they realize that it's a fitting end.  Plus, I have no idea what really did happen in the end, so readers can form their own ideas about what happened in the end.  If it helps any, in the original manuscript, there were an additional 3 pages or so where the reader is given insight to Lillian’s emotional state, and it ends with her knowing that her decision would come down to a choice between love (Teddy) and peace (her ancestors).  You also know, in that version, that Teddy got to the bedroom, saw the cufflinks she left, and you see him running again, so you at least know she's thinking about her decision, and that he's going to try to get to her.  You still don't know what happened in the end, and I don't, either.

You say that it is a positive ending rather than a negative one. How exactly can suicide be seen in a positive light?
Well, this assumes that Lillian committed suicide, which – I insist! -- I’m not sure about.  The ending is totally open to the interpretation of the reader.  However, IF the reader interprets it as or concludes that it was suicide, I would see it as positive, because all along Lillian was looking to Teddy to get her answers for her, thinking she couldn’t do it on her own, and it’s a very positive thing that even with her “disabled” mind she is able to know that he was wrong, to know that the look on her mother’s face was a look of love; and that her mother would not be trying to tell a five-year-old anything about human sacrifice, certainly not with her last breath.  So she’s able, even though she has always loved Teddy, and even though finally that love has expression, she can leave him so she can reunite with her mother and her grandmother for the real answers (certainly a mother’s love can hold its own against a lover’s love!!).  That’s how suicide can be seen in a positive light, because Lillian took power over her own life.  And  if one believes in a hereafter,  then Lillian’s leaving Teddy is really only a temporary separation, bearable when one considers she’ll have the love of her mother and grandmother, and that they (she and Teddy) will be reunited in eternity.

Teddy was ready to believe that human sacrifice was practiced in Matilda’s village. Can you address why it is easier for us to see ourselves in a negative light and not consider other possibilities?
You know, that's a complex question.  Both Teddy and Sylvie, the woman whose grandfather told her the story, came to the same conclusion - that human sacrifice was practiced to placate their gods.  Now, personally, I don't blame them from coming to this conclusion.  It's barbaric to our current modern sensibilities, but human sacrifice was a legitimate part of many pre-modern religions (and is still practiced clandestinely today). 
However, you're right in that it was perceived as a negative (certainly by Lillian), and it is indeed the more sensational way to interpret what happened.  That is what I think is the key: that when our history has been distorted, we see ourselves in a negative light and we interpret our actions as a negative thing  -- Lillian certainly did, on the personal level, struggle with having a distorted personal history and therefore seeing herself in negative terms; and this story is about her trying to escape from it.  So Teddy and Sylvie stopped at the sensationalized conclusion, not taking it a step further, not thinking of the people of Noir as a fully functioning society where a justice system was in effect, with Matilda being the chief justice and the skeletons being the remains of those who received the death penalty under a legal system that was equivalent to the legal system of the Western world.

The answer to your question, why it's easier to see ourselves in a negative light, has everything to do with they way colonized/enslaved people have been given a distorted history and how that affects us and how we see ourselves.

What did your research tell you about maroon communities? Did some of them adopt a more matrilineal structure in the Caribbean, or did that start in Africa ? How does the community in Noir relate to the female-centered households of the washerwomen?
Actuallly I didn't do much detailed research on maroon communities beyond what I already knew and the information in The Dominica Story, a book I mentioned in the acknowledgments.  I made up the part about the female-centered Noir.  I haven't heard of any such community, although in Jamaica there was indeed a famous female Maroon leader who led her troops into battle against the British -- possibly that was the inspiration for having Matilda as the village head.  My understanding is that most of these communities were led by men, and I imagine that they were run by men; in Africa , even in matrilineal societies (where descent is traced by the female line), it is still the men who have the open power, in spite of the existence of things like the Queen Mother.   So I wanted to portray a society where women really did have full power.  They could represent spirits (unlike in Africa where with only one or two exceptions, women cannot); they could control the justice system -- and I did make an effort to represent how women's concept of justice might be different from men's.  I got the idea for that when I read that the women had been left behind in Jacko's Flats; the men had run when the camp was raided, and the women and children were captured (this is historical fact).  So I came up with the idea of this village founded by some of the women and children who escaped, and, being run by women, they were not fixated on waging war, but on survival; and therefore they survived undetected into the 20th century.



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