Black Shack Alley

Joseph Zobel, trans. from the French by Keith Q. Warner. Penguin Classics, $17 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-14-313395-7
This classic of West Indian literature from Zobel (1915–2006) is the heady semiautobiographical account of José, a young boy of francophone creole ancestry navigating life on the island of Martinique in the early 20th century. José dwells in Black Shack Alley, a decrepit ghetto adjacent to the thriving sugarcane plantation; most of the Alley’s inhabitants work there or at the factory just beyond the horizon, a reminder of their children’s all-but-certain fate as laborers. José, raised by his strict but loving grandmother, lives on guava and calabash, runs wild with his friends, listens to the storyteller Medouze’s zombi tales, and absorbs a mélange of Christianity and African religious traditions. But above all, he craves acceptance from the “mysterious world” of the adults and the scornful Béké whites. José manages to escape Black Shack Alley for school, with the help of his determined mother. Soon after his First Communion, he receives a rare scholarship to a prestigious lycée in the cosmopolitan city of Fort-de-France. There, he finds himself torn between his squalid childhood and his promising future as a writer. Zobel relays José’s pain and frustration in measured, matter-of-fact prose. This perfectly captures the education of an outsider in the shadow of colonization. (May)
Reviewed on : 03/24/2020
Release date: 05/12/2020
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-0-525-50573-0
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