an interview with Mr. James Ferguson, an English
writing critic, Patrick Chamoiseau, the Martiniquan
novelist, complained that "Martinique is
cut off from the rest of the Caribbean".
It is a statement which recognises the extent
to which various forms of colonialism has fragmented
the region into self-contained linguistic pockets,
giving rise to cultural and other forms of isolation.
As a result, different parts of the Caribbean
find it difficult to communicate or be in touch
with other parts.
To the English speaking Caribbean, their French
counterparts, especially the writers and other
exemplars of culture, are mostly unknown. This
explains why a writer of such brilliance as
Patrick Chamoiseau is not as well known as he
should be to the English speaking Caribbean.
It is a remarkable fact that a West Indian who
has won the highest literary prize in France,
the Prix Goncourt, for his novel "Texaco"
still remains obscure, even though he is the
compatriot of such distinguished West Indian
writers as Franz Fanon and Aimé Cesairé
Interestingly enough, it is Derek Walcott from the Island of Saint Lucia,
with an understanding of the French historical background in the Caribbean
and his knowledge of Creole (Creolese in Martinique and Saint Lucia
is roughly similar), who was among the first to recognise Chamoiseau's
great talent. His now celebrated letter which appeared in the August
1997 New York Review edition of books goes a long way to preparing the
ground for an understanding of Chamoiseau's work. Walcott [Dereck],
in a sense, is in the perfect position to do so because he enjoys a
friendship with Chamoiseau. Who therefore is Patrick Chamoiseau?
Patrick Chamoiseau was born in 1953 in Fort de France, Martinique, where
he still lives. He studied law at the University of Martinique and in
France. Patrick Chamoiseau revealed in the interview, to which reference
has already been made, that he is a full time probation officer in Fort
de France and described his job in the following terms: "... I
have been working with young offenders for 15 years, going to Court,
getting to know their problems, trying to help them sort out their lives.
It sounds terrible, but understanding these people's experiences has
helped me hugely as a writer, as it has allowed me to look into aspects
of life that you wouldn't normally encounter."
Patrick Chamoiseau has become an important literary personality in Martinique.
Along with two friends, Raphaël Confiant and Jean Bernabé, he published
in 1989 a literary manifesto called the Elogé de la créolité which questioned
the relevance of negritude to modern day Martiniquans and which proposed,
among other things, a substantially different way of looking at the
Island's relationship with France. In particular, Chamoiseau and his
colleagues are emphatic that a Caribbean literature has to be created:
"Caribbean literature does not yet exist. We are still in a state
of pre-literature." Such radical views have ensured Chamoiseau
a certain notoriety and brought him into conflict with established figures.
In this manifesto too, Chamoiseau and his friends explained why the
use of Creolese is the only effective way at reaching beyond the surface
of things to understand the reality of Caribbean existence. In his interview
with Ferguson, Chamoiseau explains it this way: "If a writer can
use Creolese, then he is much more in touch with the thoughts and expressions
of ordinary people."
Chamoiseau has written several other books apart from his novel, Texaco,
which won the Prix Goncourt 1992. He had just published his autobiography
entitled "Childhood" and a novel "Solibo Magnificent".
Chamoiseau is also known for such works as The Chronicle of Seven Sorrows,
Creole Folk Tales, School Days and Seven Dreams of Elmira. He is regarded
as a prolific writer who, on his own admission, works "evenings,
week-ends, holidays ..." But he has opted not to become a full
time writer because, as he says, "I'd miss my work, my involvement".
Chamoiseau's determination to free himself from the French language
which he regards as the very embodiment of colonialism and the freedom
he exploits to subvert it by the use of creole expressions, and the
unforgettable characters he has created in "Texaco" have announced
that he is a formidable force in the literary world. Derek Walcott has
pronounced "Texaco" a 'great book' and others have acclaimed
it as an exceptional work. The brilliance of "Texaco" and
the high quality of his other works ensure that Chamoiseau must stand
along with the other West Indian writers who have distinguished themselves
and especially that elite band who have scaled the heights and won the