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Beverley Ormerod's title might well be a modest one for a superbly informed work on six French Caribbean novelists: Jacques Roumain and Jacques Stephen Alexis (Haiti), Edouard Glissant and Joseph Zobel (Martinique), and Michèle Laerosil and Simone Schwarz-Bart (Guadeloupe). Martinique's distinguished poet Aimé Césaire provides Ormerod with the conceptual foundation for the analysis, the archetypal classical and Christian motifs of Paradise, Fall, and Redemption, couched in the testy language of Caribbean self-discovery.
Christian theology has long afforded Caribbean philosophy a heritage rich in spiritual status assessment. But it is in Césaire's Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (1939: Notebook of a Return to My Native Land) that the author finds its sociopolitical analogue in the themes of disfranchisement, alienation, rootlessness, and, consequently, Négritude. Ormerod traces this secularization of biblical motifs in the six novels. Roumain's posthumously published Gouverneurs de la rosée (1946: Masters of the Dew) provides the first example of how the Paradise/Fall/Redemption motif is transposed and bears out Ormerod's thesis. Haiti's arid landscape represents metaphysical isolation, rejection, inner alienation, passivity—"a microcosm of the human condition after the Fall." Manuel, the hero, presents a syncretic image: "peasant son and lover, Christ-figure, sacrificial king and modern fertility god . . . and Marxist visionary."
The syncretic redeemer-hero is also present in Alexis's Compère Général Soleil (1953: Comrade General Sun), "the essential urban counterpart to Roumain's peasant parable." Other Césairean motifs, such as banishment and alienation, the poignant desire and struggle for redemption, echo across the sugarcane fields of Martinican and Guadeloupean novels: Glissant's La Lézarde (1958: The Ripening), Zobel's La Rue Cases-Nègres (1950: Black Shack Alley), Lacrosil's Demain Jab-Herma (1967: Tomorrow Jab-Herma), and Schwarz-Bart's Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle (1972: Rain and Wind on Télumée Miracle).
Ormerod is an exciting writer, in touch with the deep sense of folk culture pervading the French Caribbean, its legends, its rich and multitextured language, its social order, its history of tragedies and latent sociopolitical possibilities, its irascible sense of self-worth. All these are reflected in Ormerod's appreciation of the authors she studies. What we look for in her introduction to novels written in the French speaking islands of the Caribbean is a first-time lead-in, a firstround exposé. What we find instead, in addition to a particularly informative introduction, a somewhat multifunctional conclusion, and a useful bibliography and index, is a very well-written critique, one that will easily satisfy the needs of those new to the field and that the more experienced reader will enjoy challenging.
Ormerod does not, even to clarify her position on Cesaire, distinguish between French Caribbean novels, metropolitan novels, and those covered by other language groups of the Caribbean. Are the motifs Ormerod traces not common to a significant cross section of Caribbean literature? Have not the labor movements, [End Page 647] the Pan-Africanists, and others at the turn of the century been of considerable significance? Ormerod does not ignore these influences, but neither does she clearly establish that all six of the works examined are rooted, not in Césaire, but in the phenomenological heritage to which Cesaire himself is heir.
In 1967 Gabriel García Márquez published Cien a...