This is my review of Une Enfance Creole 1/Antan D’enfance (Collection Folio) by Patrick Chamoiseau.
The first part in a trilogy by the prize-winning author from Martinique, Patrick Chamoiseau, captures the spirit of life in the capital of Fort-de-France fifty years ago: the stultifying heat, fear of fire in the communal wooden houses contrasting with the need to deal with leaks in the rainy season, ravages of a cyclone, colour and chaos of the markets and uproar of occasional riots. He recreates the preoccupations of a sensitive small child in a constrained world, dissecting insects and playing with forbidden matches under the stairs, terrified in the dark by demons and the three-legged phantom horse, fascinated by tales of the shop-keeper who married a sorceror but made the mistake of burning his abandoned skin so that he could not return to her in his "normal" life.
Although these anecdotes may sound entertaining in retrospect, I found the book hard-going and tedious. This was owing to the many Creole terms which I had to keep stopping to look up, sometimes without success, and the pretentious language which grated when applied to childhood memories. I was irritated by the author's decision to call himself "le négrillon" all the way through, and I often felt that he was investing his pre-school self with adult observations, say on the sales techniques of the Syrian shopkeepers, and embellishing some points to the extent of making things up. There was little sense of any characters apart from the powerful and dominating mother figure who despite working every hour of the day was often short of cash, so she had to resort to sending her son out shopping in the hope that his appeal would soften the hearts of shop-keepers reluctant to add yet more expenditure to her credit tab. There is occasional pathos, say in the mother's frustrated childhood desire to be a singer, and we wonder what sorrows the father may have been trying to drown in rum at every opportunity.