Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Five great novels of revolution

A writer of Uruguayan origins, Carolina De Robertis is the author of the novels Cantoras, a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and a New York Times Editors’ Choice; The Gods of Tango, winner of a Stonewall Book Award; Perla; and the international bestseller The Invisible Mountain, which received Italy’s Rhegium Julii Prize.

At Book Marks she shared, with Jane Ciabattari, five great novels of revolution, including:
Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau

Sweeping, dazzling, and volcanically poetic, this Francophone novel traces the history of Martinique through the eyes of an old woman in a slum who, to save her people, recounts the story of their trajectory from brutal enslavement to political turmoil to their claiming of an abandoned Texaco plant. The scope of Hugo’s Les Misérables and the ferociously imagined richness of One Hundred Years of Solitude meet in a visionary, gigantic, Black-centered narrative that subverts the paradigms of institutional power.

JC: What’s fascinating about Texaco, which won the Prix Goncourt when it was published in 1992, is Chamoiseau’s stitching together of so many stories through the narration of Marie-Sophie Laborieux, who tells the history of the endangered community named Texaco back to her ancestor Esternome, a former slave. The hybridity of the novel’s shape and language is striking. How does Chamoiseau do that!?

CDeR: That’s a good question. At this point in my life, I’m unable to read the original French (though I dream of arriving at that level of skill one day!), but it would be incredible to directly experience the hybridity of his formal French with the Creole of his nation and the African linguistic inflections of the people he portrays. Fortunately, his English-language translators did an excellent job of rendering these nuances, which is something I’m particularly passionate about as a literary translator myself. So Chamoiseau’s innovations and subversions are on the macro level, in terms of the stories he tells and the centuries he sweeps through, and also on what translator Emily Wilson calls “the microscopic level of the word.”

And this is just a guess, but I think he also achieved what he did by having fun. His characters are as exuberant as his sentences, his humor is as lavish as his syntax, even in the thick of atrocity. As a writer, I relish that.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue