cover image School Days

School Days

Patrick Chamoiseau. University of Nebraska Press, $15 (146pp) ISBN 978-0-8032-6376-5

In this rhythmic narrative set in Fort de France, Martinique, the author of the 1992 Prix Goncourt-winning Texaco (reviewed PW 12/09/96) recalls his days spent at colonial school. Amidst snatches of poetry--often delivered by a Greek chorus of Repondeurs--and prose that is both sardonic and lyrical, the author tells the story of his youthful self, ""the little black boy"" who longs to learn of the world beyond his home. But he attends a school where ""speech became a heroic feat""; his teacher brandishes a switch for students who lapse from proper French into their native Creole tongue, and his classmates can be equally brutal to those who cling to their Creole ways. One classmate in particular seems to suffer from children and adults alike. Big Bellybutton is a target of bullies who later will be absorbed by stories of his Creole history. Eventually, this same child will surrender to the requirements of their fanatic teacher and forever lose his exuberance as a result (""Repondeurs:/ Smackenwhackem!/ Slicendicem!/ Lashenbashem!""). But this teacher gave Chamoiseau his appreciation for literature. These memories recall the education of a young writer in the alternately humorous and tragic combination of a teacher who treated books ""like treasures sacred to a timeless ritual of which you were the last hierophant"" and Big Bellybutton, the tormented student who endowed his ""underground language... with a latent strength whose combustive power I would realize only many years later."" (Mar.)