Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau

Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau

Patrick Chamoiseau comes to the blog today in a story that mixes history, struggle, allegory and folktale, all set in Martinique. Translated by Linda Coverdale, please read on for my review of

Slave Old Man

Two readings of this title – and I can only liken the tension to that of Eliza’s Leap in Uncle Tom’s Cabin– the tension, the worry of whether or not she’ll survive not only the jump but those in pursuit, and that similar tension permeates this book and one of the many reasons why this should be on your to read list. A mix of Creole and French (with footnotes and translations that may not be ‘exact’ for meaning or intention in English) do bring a bit of distraction to the reading progress – but if you let go of the ‘conventional’ and allow the meter and flow of the prose to carry you forward, the story quickly becomes one that demands you read on. Full of allegory and description that works on levels instinctive and not quite intellectual, the struggles of the old slave’s escape from the plantation, the Master and the deadly Mastiff sent to track him down – through the dangers in the jungle, the terror, the paranoia as the ramifications and never-ending struggle to keep moving yet hidden become tactile and present, there as you read on.

The duality of the situation, both for the slave and the master are emblematic of the struggle that many countries and people have with their own histories in the present day: the ‘benevolent’ master fable where the Master reflects on the fact that he’s learned much from the Slave, in almost a ‘companion-like’ tone, contrasting with the subjugation of someone without free will, movement or choice, owned by another and so entrenched in that position that name, personhood and choice are not even a consideration. Perhaps most important in this story is the brutality – the never-ending horrors that were a part of the systems that kept people as less than human, and the very real horrors and dangers in the jungle, and why those are preferable to the older slave than existing in the life he was born into.

These voices, subjugated, demeaned, and buried under layers of histories written from the perspective of the powerful, those in charge and perhaps struggling to stay at the pinnacle are the real moments in history that need to be heard for things to change.

“Everybody winds up hating him. Then venerating him. Then hating him again. Then forgetting him. Then wondering how old he is. Then treating him the way one treats wretches from whom one no longer expects anything.”

Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau

Title: Slave Old Man
Author: Patrick Chamoiseau
Genre: Colonial Era, Historic Elements, Literary Fiction, Setting: Caribbean, Slavery
Published by: The New Press
ISBN: 1620972956
Published on: 1 May, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Pages: 177
Rated: four-stars
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From a Prix Goncourt writer hailed by Milan Kundera as the “heir of Joyce and Kafka,” a gripping story of an escaped slave in Martinique and the killer hound that pursues him

We follow them into a lush rain forest where nature is beyond all human control: sinister, yet entrancing and even exhilarating, because the old man’s flight to freedom will transform them all in truly astonishing—even otherworldly—ways, as the overwhelming physical presence of the forest reshapes reality and time itself. Chamoiseau’s exquisitely rendered new novel is an adventure for all time, one that fearlessly portrays the demonic cruelties of the slave trade and its human costs in vivid, sometimes hallucinatory prose. Offering a loving and mischievous tribute to the Creole culture of Martinique and brilliantly translated by Linda Coverdale, this novel takes us on a unique and moving journey into the heart of Caribbean history.

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.


About Patrick Chamoiseau

Patrick Chamoiseau is a French author from Martinique known for his work in the créolité movement.

Chamoiseau was born on December 3, 1953 in Fort-de-France, Martinique, where he currently resides. After he studied law in Paris he returned to Martinique inspired by Édouard Glissant to take a close interest in Creole culture. Chamoiseau is the author of a historical work on the Antilles under the reign of Napoléon Bonaparte and several non-fiction books which include Éloge de la créolité (In Praise of Creoleness), co-authored with Jean Bernabé and Raphaël Confiant. Awarded the Prix Carbet (1990) for Antan d’enfance. His novel Texaco was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1992, and was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. It has been described as "a masterpiece, the work of a genius, a novel that deserves to be known as much as Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Cesaire’s Return to My Native Land".

Chamoiseau may also safely be considered as one of the most innovative writers to hit the French literary scene since Louis-Ferdinand Céline. His freeform use of French language — a highly complex yet fluid mixture of constant invention and "creolism" — fuels a poignant and sensuous depiction of Martinique people in particular and humanity at large.


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