What We’re Reading: The Last Warner Woman
Kei Miller’s novel The Last Warner Woman is a completely absorbing story, full of the mysterious, religious fervor, powerful haunted/ing women, and tragedy. The novel is told by two different narrators; that of the “Mr. Writer Man”, and that of his subject, The Warner Woman, also known as Adamine Bustamante. Both voices are necessary to hear this story, to hear their conflicting story lines battling for the truth. However, through these two, we find that truth via fact isn’t always the full truth. Adamine’s story is woven with unanswered questions, emotionally complicated situations and decisions, and cloudy definitions of right and wrong.
We follow Adamine’s journey from her birth (and her mother’s death) in the last leper colony in Jamaica, where she is born unknowingly into her mother’s lost destiny. When she runs away from the leper colony, she discovers her life as a Warner Woman with the Revival church. With the somewhat awful gift of Warning, she sees earthquakes and floods about to happen, she has to cut away demons from sick children, trembles with the power of God. People revere her, and fear her in Jamaica. When she moves to England, however, her sanity is doubted. The unknown Mr. Writer Man has tracked her down years later, desperate to pull her out of her institutionalized silence and learn her story. This is their joint journey into understanding her experiences, and with it, the pain of living.
However, while Adamine’s story is hard, and heavy, reading this novel made me feel more alive, the pages tingling with vibrancy and urgency. The narrators are perfect, and the story provides humor and everyday life along with the unbelievable and mysterious. It’s an addicting, completely engrossing read. Adamine’s voice especially pulls you in deep and holds you there, in the middle of her complicated, somewhat mysterious web. Miller uses innovative writerly tactics to enhance that feeling, with Adamine’s portion of the story told as an “installment of a testimony spoken to the wind”, of which there are many. Each one is a riptide of emotional overload, hearing Adamine’s tragic and difficult story from her own impressive dialect.
Another aspect of the novel that I loved was how much time Miller devotes to each character, divulging enough so we understand who each of these characters are in their individual stories, in addition to their roles in Adamine’s story. I am partial to books that go into depth with each character, and especially appreciate when authors such as Miller can achieve this by creating an intense amount of intimate depth in not so many words. Many of these characters are women; Adamine’s mother who dies giving birth to Adamine, Mother Lazarus who raises Adamine in the leper colony, and more. They are the core of the novel, and through it, we see injustices done to them, and their own complex actions.
Kei Miller was born in Kingston Jamaica, and is the author of The Same Earth, and Fear of Stones, and also writes poetry.
Which powerful literary women characters have stuck with you after finishing reading their story? Is there a novel you’re thinking of that resembles this murky journey to discover the truth?