Combining human disaster, dramatic history, travel-writing and brilliant analysis - this is a breathtaking work of narrative non-fiction
Peter Morgan is a reporter for ITN's Channel Four News. He has written several plays for radio and theatre. His first radio play won the Society of Authors new writing award for 2000.
In an excellent work of history and social commentary, Morgan chronicles the events leading up to and the aftermath of the devastating 1902 eruption of Mount Pel?e on the Caribbean island of Martinique, along with the life of the local city's only known survivor, a laborer named Ludger Sylbaris. The blast destroyed the city of St. Pierre and its 30,000 inhabitants in a matter of hours. Morgan, both a seasoned English journalist and a playwright, accordingly combines a nose for meticulous detail with a storytelling flair, giving his account an intense personal angle that enlivens the history. His introduction to turn-of-the-century St. Pierre is told from the point of view of a visiting photographer, and it is replete with the crisp images characteristic of Morgan's style: "He sits under a burning blue sky, watching n?gociants dicker over quarts and kilos, eighths and sixteenths. He is fascinated by a sack of raw sugar, sweating syrup from every pore.... There is a constant reek of coal fires, of sun-roasted brick and rotten meat." Morgan has an equally good eye for the nuances of the colonial island's relationship with France, the political shortsightedness that allowed many warning signs to be ignored and the inevitable opportunists who took advantage of the situation afterward. Those include Barnum & Bailey's Circus, who hired Sylbaris and touted him as "the Most Marvelous Man in the World." The idea of him stripping off his shirt to reveal his puckered skin to onlookers at the behest of a sideshow barker is just one of the scenes that reverberate from this engrossing book. (Aug.) Forecast: There's a good chance that excitement for Simon Winchester's Krakatoa, another volcanic disaster, will translate into good sales for Fire Mountain. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
'As a miniature study in colonialism and as an lesson in what happens to enlightened values under duress - almost an adult Lord of the Flies - his book is hard to beat' Financial Times 'Peter Morgan is an able storyteller, giving good detail on the social and political life of the island' The Times