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Volume No. 1 Issue No. 90 - Friday February 16, 2007
Death by Fire - The Explosive Story of the 1963 Carnival Tragedy
Gabriel Christian


In what is a dramatic first for Dominica's Carnival Season, a book will be launched during Carnival 2007 which explores one of Dominica's most mysterious events: The 1963 Carnival Monday Fire.

On that day an explosion took place at the back of the Mexican Band on King George V Street, Roseau in which three sensay clad masqueraders were killed and nineteen others wounded. An event which some consider a mysterious accident and most consider a crime.

Since writing their first book In Search of Eden-Dominica-The Travails of a Caribbean Mini-State in 1992, Irving W. Andre and Gabriel J. Christian have consistently broken new literary ground where Dominica is concerned.

Eden’s analysis of Dominica's recent history has been well received, as has Andre’s works on local luminaries such as Frank Baron, Edward Olive LeBlanc, and Dr. D.O.N. McIntyre.

Christian's Rain on a Tin Roof (1999) went on to earn Five Stars on Amazon.com and continues to entertain many new readers of Caribbean literature. Now, the co-authors most ambitious – and some would say spellbinding work Death by Fire – The Explosive Story of the 1963 Carnival Tragedy is set to hit bookshelves on Dominica in time for the 2007 Carnival season.

Published by Pont Casse Press, and printed by the University of Toronto Press, the almost 300 page book; has thick sheaf of historic photos.

The book is a serious analysis of the 1963 Carnival Monday Fire which took the lives of three dynamic young Dominicans: Eddie Martin-founding member of the Swinging Stars and a guitar virtuoso; Eric Shillingford-dashing Vauxhall car and truck dealer, Eric Bakery entrepreneur and civic leader; George James-the best saxophonist in the land and legendary leader of G.J. Orchestra.

In a vibrant work, complete with period photos of Carnival and the personalities involved, we are taken on a historical journey of Dominica in 1963 and the genesis of the island's carnival from colonial days to the present. The pages pulsate with the stirring lyrics of the chante mas and lapo cabwit.

We read of the exploits of ban mauvais masqueraders in their heyday; the origins of songs such as Adieu William O! and Dife Mama Dife!—all this building to a crescendo of color and drama, marred by tragedy, on that sunny Carnival Monday, forty-four years ago.

The authors reveal how they discovered the 1963 Commission of Inquiry Report into the Fire, authored by investigating Judge E.L. St. Bernard, in the summer of 2006. The authors, with pains taking detailing, spoke to dozens of Dominicans – and some non-Dominicans – who recalled the fire and its aftermath.

We get to hear from the victims, such as Rupert Lance, Kathleen Trotter, Vivian Webb and others; and we are provided with an appendix containing the actual report.

The vivid reportage is at times troubling, if not shocking! Yet, through it all we sense the best efforts of the authors to make this a moment of reasoned reflection about our condition as a people, as mirrored by our communal festival: carnival. The work entertains, while educating one and all about Dominica's fascinating history.

The authors take the opportunity to call for the three deceased masqueraders to be declared National Cultural Heroes. They reflect on the steps we can take to better anchor our festivals; to include a National Carnival Hall to display the Carnivals of years past.

In their many years of writing together, and individually, the authors have grown tremendously and each have their unique styles and strengths. In this work they have done a service to us all by shining a new light on our carnival.

That they do so against the vivid backdrop of a tragedy which teaches us much about ourselves, affirms our maturity as a people.

That, even in the midst of gaiety, we must ponder our fate and find transcendental meaning in what we do-lest we descend to being caricatures who merely exist to amuse others. In what is a timely work, Death by Fire assures all that Eddie, Eric and George did not die; rather they ascended to that place where Carnival legends reside.

And that we shall remember them, every carnival day and beyond, when we see a rainbow in the sky.

____________ Death By Fire will be available at Frontline Bookstore and other fine business houses around Dominica

Comments about this article? Email:
editor@
thedominican.net
Telephone:
1-703-861-9411
Fax:
1-202-589-7937

Volume No. 1 Issue No. 94
Chavez visits Dominica
History of Zouk
Carnival Fire
My wayward friend
The greenest island



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