cover image Childhood


Patrick Chamoiseau. University of Nebraska Press, $15 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-8032-6382-6

Novelist Chamoiseau's second memoir (after School Days) evokes his early childhood, beginning with the rainy night his mother (whom he refers to as the Prime Confidante) walked to the midwife's house to give birth to him, an incident he claims is responsible for his ""melancholic weakness for rainy weather."" The book is divided into two sections, ""Feeling"" and ""Leaving,"" both prompted by the author's meditations on his life in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Chamoiseau leads the reader into ""the bewitching period"" of his childhood, describing it with the doting subjectivity of an older, more mature relative who refers to the child he was as ""the little boy."" This boy, who was fascinated with torturing insects and rats, found more creative ways to spend his time after a ""city storyteller"" exposed him to ""the astonishing richness of Creole orality,"" a quality that now animates Chamoiseau's prose in this volume and in such novels as Texaco. Chamoiseau calls the apartment house in which he grew up ""old as eternity."" It was the center of a world in which ""the mamas"" washed their clothing in water drawn from a communal fountain and spirits summoned by ""people-with-powers"" could cause human sickness and otherwise wreak havoc. It was a world of poverty, but his boy's imagination could transform squalor into beauty and meaning. Chamoiseau admits he ""sacrifices everything to the music of the phrase,"" so readers might do well to approach this book as if it were as much fable as memoir. (Feb.)