This dazzling literary novel (256 pages) was published in March of 2012 by Coffee House Press. The book takes you to Jamaica. Melissa read The Last Warner Woman and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
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Full transparency: This book’s setup might not sell you on it. This is a beautifully written story about a woman born in a Jamaican leper colony and later committed to a mental hospital in England.
But trust that this gorgeous book is much more than those few words convey. It’s lively and raw, musical and heartbreaking, challenging, thrilling, and unforgettable.
To understand what happens in this book, you’ll need to know about two things: Jamaican Revivalism — a religion that blends Christian and African beliefs — and the warner women. A warner woman communicates with spirits to warn people of what’s coming. It’s not always bad news. ‘Just as every fruit don’t name mango, and just as every animal don’t name dog, so too the Warner Woman’s mouth is not only full of thunder and lightning… One day I may tell you of the storm, but the next day I may tell you to cast your eyes to the east where there riseth a rainbow.’
This remarkable novel is the life story of Adamine, a warner woman. Born in one of Jamaica’s last leper colonies, she grew up, discovered Revivalism, and learned of her gift as a warner.
The narrative spans from the 1940s until the 2000s, so we meet Adamine’s sweet mother and the people of the leper colony, a ‘beautiful place, full of every color you can find in the rainbow’ where people ‘did live good with each other and love was their portion.’
We pass through Adamine’s life at her side, experiencing her awakening as a warner woman and its accompanying tragedies. We also meet a mysterious character she calls Mr. Writer Man — he’s convinced Adamine to share her life story so he can turn it into a book. The story unspools through Adamine’s first-person account in a musical patois and the observations of Mr. Writer Man.
Although Adamine is the star, this is really a story about storytelling and who gets to write the final version of a person’s life. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
If you have any empathy at all, parts of this book will cut you deeply: the banishment and othering of people who are different, repeated violence against women, heartbreak, and betrayal. There’s a lot of tragedy in these pages. But there’s also a vise grip on the will to live — and to love.
This story has the urgency of a conversation where an emotional dam is about to break, when a whole truth will be revealed from one person to another. It begs to be read aloud. We recommend the audiobook narrated by the author with one caveat: The book is divided into four parts, and the audiobook includes only the first two, about 60 percent of the book. Attempts to suss out why failed. But we stand behind our recommendation of the audiobook because Kei Miller tells his story so vibrantly, making a song of his words.
Double down on this: Listen to the audiobook until there is no more, then switch to the print version — and you will still hear Adamine’s poignant, urgent patois ringing in our ears.
The cry of the Warner Woman carries with it a scent, and if you are close by when she prophesies you will smell it too. It is the smell of nutmeg, of earth, of rocks, of rain coming in from a distance, of salt, of ocean, of egrets, of oil, of cream soda, of coconut, of dust. — Kei Miller
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