THE ISLAND: Martinique

John Edgar Wideman, Author . National Geographic $20 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7922-6533-7

Given "the opportunity to go anywhere in the world and write about it," the distinguished and prolific novelist, autobiographer, story writer and essayist Wideman chose to spend three winter weeks on Martinique. He offers this prose poem, at times lyrical, at times streetwise, as "the record of a visit." Personal diary merges with meditations provoked by the shadow of slavery and the consequent Creolization in the New World. Wideman explores, as a stream-of-consciousness novelist or a jazz musician might, writing, clothing, language, hair, Thomas Jefferson, Shakespeare's The Tempest and the guided tour. He juxtaposes the real-life, real-time interracial love affair in the book's first half with a storyteller's less joyful alternate-universe invention in the second half. A semimonologue offers readers "a brief foray" into the mind of Père Labat, priest and plantation manager, as an example of "the seduction of unfettered license, the extremes of violence and compulsion we perpetrate on one another." In a 10-page tour-de-force sentence set simultaneously in 1902 and the present, Wideman re-creates and reimagines the catastrophic eruption of Mount Pelée, in which 30,000 died. While there is a map and a time line, this book won't help visitors with where to go and what to eat. Still, Wideman delivers "improvisation, spontaneity, play, breaking rules," always the literate and impassioned sojourner. (Jan.)

Forecast:Wideman's fans will enjoy this window into his style and interests, and travelers to Martinique will find it thought-provoking. This is the eighth in National Geographic's Directions series; others include Oliver Sacks's Oaxaca Journal and A.M. Homes's Los Angeles.

Reviewed on: 01/06/2003
Release date: 02/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 192 pages - 978-1-4262-0905-5
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