Book review: 'Volcano' by Yvonne Weekes
Cathy Buffonge, Caribbean Net News
Montserratís volcano has been acting up for the past eleven years, affecting all aspects of life on the island. In her memoir 'Volcano', Yvonne Weekes has written a very personal account of her experiences and feelings during the first few years of volcanic activity. The book was launched at the high profile Caribbean International Literary Festival, held in Antigua in November last year.
The book is written in the first person, giving an effect of immediacy, that these things are happening now. Yvonne Weekes is also a poet, and some of her poems are interspersed throughout the book
Born in Britain to Montserratian parents, the authorís deep love of Montserrat shines through in the book. She reflects back to her early childhood years in Britain, where she knew little of Montserrat and her teacher told her it didnít exist; her arrival in Montserrat as a school child, and her return to the UK later on as a senior high school and college student, a time described by her as 'the dry period of my life'.
From her arrival on the island onwards, she looks on Montserrat as home. On return from university in the UK in 1987, she says of Montserrat, 'There is never any place on earth I would rather be'. The volcano wasnít thought of then (except in a report which was conveniently filed away and forgotten). Yvonne and friends visited the Soufriere (the hot sulphur spring in the mountain), the highest mountain, Chanceís Peak, and the volcanic hot water pond without any fear.
Then in 1995 the volcanic activity started, catching everyone by surprise. Yvonne was Director of Culture and it fell to her to devise a variety of cultural and art activities for the islandís children, who were relocated from the southern and eastern volcanic areas into shelters, mostly schools and churches. School was held in tents and whatever makeshift locations could be found.
When her home fell into the expanded unsafe zone she relocated to Barbados, along with her son, whose life is wrapped up with hers throughout the book. Here she spent a year studying for her masterís degree, and several years teaching Theatre Arts at the Barbados Community College.
Coming through strongly in the memoir is her unhappiness in Barbados, in spite of apparently having a creative job. 'I feel totally disconnected in this cold country where the sun always shines', she says. Even later on, when she finds herself back in Montserrat at the height of the volcanic events of 1997, she says, 'No matter how hard I try, I cannot put Montserrat behind me. My soul is caught up with this island'.
Being away from Montserrat was more painful than being there, but it was made even more painful as friends and family gradually left due to the volcanic situation. Coming through strongly too in the latter part of the book is her bitterness at the way in which the volcanic crisis was managed, when she makes a scathing attack on the authorities.
Yvonne Weekesí Volcano is highly personal and addresses the volcanic situation and portions of her life in a personal and descriptive fashion; this in sharp contrast to Volcano! books by this author (Cathy Buffonge), which deal with the events as they happened in a journalistic style. Perhaps the two accounts could be regarded as complementary, since they cover a similar period in different styles.
Yvonne Weekes is remembered in Montserrat as the inspired and dynamic director of the Rainbow Theatre Company, with brilliant productions of Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, Old Story Time, and other Caribbean plays, which she produced while working as Director of Culture on the island. She also took part in the satirical play 'Women + Men + Women' at Carifesta in Trinidad. It is a pleasure to have this book available and added to the growing volcano literature that has evolved during Montserratís volcanic period.
This review relates to the book
by Yvonne Weekes