Patrick Chamoiseau; Trans. Linda Coverdale

On the surface, Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from the French and Creole by Linda Coverdale, is a straightforward story of the struggles of an old slave as he escapes from a Martinique plantation. Chased by a vicious dog and his master, the slave enters a lush rain forest where nature runs rampant, providing fodder for hallucinations and wild imaginings.

But this is anything but a straightforward story. One could argue it is not really a story at all but a thrilling piece of lyrical poetry. The sheer energy and lyricism of the language propels the story forward, embroiling the reader in the lushness of its diction while immersing us in the plushness of the rain forest. The narrative is gripping, fast-paced, and dense.

As the elderly slave breathlessly runs, twists, and turns in this wild terrain, his mind hallucinates with twists and turns. His journey deep into the forest is transformative, triggering a journey deep into his past. What’s real and what’s imagined become inextricably intertwined with the elderly slave populating his narrative with flashbacks of his harrowing journey from Africa; and with references to and imaginings of the Creole culture of Martinique; with Caribbean history, mythology, and folklore. The reader is swept up in a wave with no sure footing as to what is happening. The journey is archetypal. The forest assumes mythical proportions, housing monsters, mysteries, and secrets older than time itself.

This book may not be for everyone. Smatterings of words in French or Creole, references that require flipping to the Notes at the end of the book, prose that is lyrical and non-linear, and the juxtaposition of the real with the imaginary make it a challenging read. But it is a worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys being swept up by exhilarating prose with an electrifying, haunting quality.

Highly recommended.

AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review