Weighing in at 30 pages of text, with an additional 34 pages of Laguarigue's photographs (17 in halftone, 15 in color), Chamoiseau's latest offering is a wisp of a tale, as ephemeral as the Creole spirit-creature it invokes. Inspired by the recollections of workers at the renowned and nearly sacred Saint-Etienne rum distillery of Gros-Morne, Martinique, Chamoiseau lyrically elaborates the story of a benign and beautiful spirit-creature called Elvira, whose mysterious presence haunts the place. Isidore, a simpleton who does menial chores at the distillery, is the first to catch a glimpse of an evanescent something, at the workers' annual rum-tasting. Fated ever after to attempt to recapture the experience, he only manages to be ""uprooted by raving rum, howling over the lost vision."" A few other workers see Elmira, then try to evoke or describe her, only to fail. Possessing a ""variable beauty, fluid like the ocean lifting its acclamations to the sky,"" she is known to leave her witnesses ""not terrified, but dependent forevermore."" The unnamed narrator has never seen Elmira--perhaps, she speculates, because she lacks ""some degree of innocence,"" but she herself is a memorable character. More than 100 years old, she is one of the few remaining workers who still holds all the secrets necessary to produce a successful batch of rum. No word is superfluous here, and as in his previous works (Texaco; Solibo Magnificent), Chamoiseau delights the reader with prose that begs to be read aloud. Names like Th olom ne, Colocom de, At thonase--recall the luscious tones of Martinican Creole. Supplemented by photographs of the weathered old distillery set deep in palm-covered hills, and by soulful, somber portraits of Gros-Morne residents, this is a small but lovely addition to Chamoiseau's works available in English. Agent, The French Publishers Agency. First serial to Transition. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999 Release date: 08/01/1999 Genre: Nonfiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.