Raphael Confiant. Farrar Straus Giroux, $22 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-374-19932-6
Set in mid-century Martinique, this atmospheric novel--Confiant's first to be translated into English--unfolds against a backdrop of political unrest as the islanders debate whether to accept independence from France. Adelise is a pretty, mixed-blood c presse, raised by her mother in the isolated rural countryside. By the age of 14, she is working in the sugarcane fields, where she is repeatedly raped and first learns the survival mechanism of mind/body detachment. She finds solace ""conversing"" with her beloved--a tree in her backyard near which her umbilical cord is buried. At 16, she is sent to live with her aunt in the capital city, Fort-de-France. Vivacious Aunt Philom ne is a prostitute on Morne Pichevin, one of the capital's many shack-packed mountain plateaus. Philom ne hopes to find a rich husband for her niece, but soon Adelise is living the same life as her aunt, gossip-filled afternoons followed by nights on the street. For a while, Adelise is in love with Hom re, a staid and treelike docksman, but eventually his steadfastness bores her. After continued misfortune--Adelise glimpses a coffin when she reads her aunt's fortune; her apathetic neighbors resist community improvement--the novel ends on a hopeful note. Despite dynamic details of fiery political island strife and colorful island fabulism, momentum stalls when chapters alternate between past and present, first and third person, and fail to build up to a satisfying climax. This is a less focused version of Patrick Chamoiseau's eloquent and vibrant Texaco, which also told of the fight for autonomy by the shanty dwellers of Martinique. Glossary of Creole terms included. (July) FYI: Martinique resident Confiant won the 1991 November Prize for Eau de Cafe.
Reviewed on: 07/03/2000
Paperback - 169 pages - 978-0-8032-6418-2