Yvonne Weekes’ memoir of eight years dominated by the awakening, eruption and still grumbling aftermath of Montserrat’s Soufriere is a remarkable document at many levels. It is an acutely written account of the impact of the eruption on the life and viability of this small Caribbean island, with a quizzical eye for the undertones of the experience -- the way, for instance, the awakened mountain becomes a favoured place for car-borne lovers’ trysts -- as well as for the more public manifestations of the way her people responded to the disaster. As Director of Culture who organised a theatrical review that was taken round the refugees in the temporary shelters, she was well-placed to observe and listen; one of the qualities of the book is the way it brings the voices of Montserratians so vividly to life. She captures a world split between the new scientific vocabulary of seismography and pyroclastic flows and the Old Testament talk of Sodom and Gomorrah and sins punished. But Volcano is above all a personal and intimate account of the processes of stress, loss, grieving emptiness and the rebuilding of a heart and sense of self; of confronting the ‘nothingness that hollows me’ when everything by which she has known herself -- home, family, friends, landscape -- is taken from her, when faith is tested to the core.
But it is the quality of Yvonne Weekes’ writing that makes Volcano a work of art as well as record. Her prose is always alive, conversational and clear, rising to memorable heights when she describes the terrible moments of blackness against which all life demands to be reviewed.