By Christopher Tobutt
For those who were not here when Hurricane Ivan struck, or for those who are fortunate enough to have never experienced a hurricane, it might be difficult to imagine what it would be like.
Local author Chelsea M Rivers’ new novel, Hurricane Ivan: The Experience, launched at Books & Books on Saturday, 12 September (the fifth anniversary of the hurricane) gave such people a good idea of the feelings experienced through such an event during the book reading session that ensued.
First of all, though, Ms Rivers got the chance to introduce the book, and to talk about why she had written it, especially why she thought the incident was a very significant one. She also got a chance to thank some of the people who had helped her.
There was her husband, without whose constant encouragement, Ms Rivers said, she would have probably given up. Then there was Ms Rivers’ grandmother, whose collection of Barbara Cartland novels that she used to read as a youngster (as well as, “correcting my Texas slang with her Colorado style”), had helped teach the author to write well. There was also Ms Rivers’ stepmother, who had also been a source or strength, Ms Rivers said.
The formal presentation began with a prayer, when the protection of the hand of the Almighty during the terrible storm was acknowledged. A heartfelt wish that we in the Cayman Islands should never take what we have for granted, was expressed as well.
Although the book draws on historical fact and real events, it takes the form of a novel, recounting the storm, and the feelings engendered by the storm, from the perspective of four survivors.
During the book reading, Ms Rivers had enlisted the help of two Caymanians, Adonza Harrison and Sterling Dwayne Ebanks, to read the quotations written in Cayman dialect.
When I spoke with Ms Rivers, just before the presentation, I asked her why she wanted to write such a book.
“Because it was one of the single most profound events to affect me,” she answered. “Being here, knowing this Island, it was something that devastated everything here.” However, an important point that Ms Rivers made was that Hurricane Ivan’s effects were not all bad: “It changed the way in which we handled people, how we appreciated things,” she said.
The way people treated each other immediately after Ivan reminded Ms Rivers of the Cayman she used to know, years before the pressures and enticements of wealth seemed to take over. Ms Rivers clearly misses that more community-minded Cayman, and was heartened to find out that it hadn’t disappeared, even though she acknowledged that those positive changes didn’t seem to last.
It was a point she reiterated at the beginning of formal presentation, when she said that Hurricane Ivan was, “Both the worst and the best thing to happen.”