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Solibo Magnificent (Vintage International) Paperback – March 30, 1999
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In her Afterward, Rejouis informs us that snickt is a rendering of Chamoiseau's original "egorgette," which is itself a neologism in French. Snickt...is a linguistic invention in one language that perfectly incarnates a linguistic invention in another. It prefigures the surreal preposterousness of Chamoiseau's Creole world, whose qualities, normal to its inhabitants, will seem as if viewed through a deforming lens by outsiders. But it also shows that a story about untranslatability can, in fact, be translated. That single word snickt, like Chamoiseau's novel, is a treat.
Chamoiseau's language is neither French nor Creole. The translators, Rose-Myriam Rejouis and Val Vinokurov, have done a fine job, as they did with ''Texaco,'' of representing the originality of Chamoiseau's language in fluent and captivating English. This is no easy task, given the fact that Chamoiseau writes in what the French critic Pierre Pinalie has called ''Freole.''
The two translators, Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov, ought once again to be applauded for their splendid work. Their version of this novel reads like a cross between Aime Cesaire's poetry and Ishmael Reed's early fiction. An English whose texture is all the more supple and savory for being in intimate contact with French Creole makes reading Solibo Magnificent an exhilarating experience.
The publication of Rejouis and Vinokurov's translation of Solibo Magnificent firmly ensconces Chamoiseau in the English language. Last year saw their rendition of his magnum opus, Texaco, his depiction of three generations of Martinique history: the days of slavery and its abolition up to the present and uncertain predicament of Creole culture, embodied in the shantytown 'counter-city' of Texaco.
About the Author
Patrick Chamoiseau lives on Martinique. He is the writer of Texaco, Les Neuf Consciences du malfini, Chronique des Sept Misères and Solibo Magnifique. Texaco has been translated into 14 languages.
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The novel is both pathos and a comedy. It begins with a formal police report of a fatality and a listing of people who have been rounded up as suspects in the homicide. Solibo, we learn, died in a public park and is immediately surrounded by people who debate about the best way to revive him. Instead of preparing for a funeral, these same people tell stories about Solibo and his miraculous powers. For instance, once, a farmer tried unsuccessfully to kill one of his pigs. When Solibo came to visit him, the farmer told of his frustration; Solibo looked the pig in the eyes and told it to die. The pig died. The power of the word revealed!
What is most revealing, however, is the gap that exists between the abstractions that are encased in language that can be written and the concrete nature of the language that is spoken. In one case, one suspect is taken to the police headquarters and questioned. The policeman, who speaks only French, asks, "What is your address?" and "When is your birthday?" The suspect doesn't understand either question. He is only able to answer when he is addressed by another police officer, one who speaks French and Creole. That policeman asks, "When do you go to eat dinner?" and then, "After which hurricane were you born?"
In these examples, one discovers a fuller meaning of the idea of assimilation, in this case, one that failed to take root, even though the French had dominated the island of Martinique. In its own way, the novel is a story of resistance to assimilation and a testimony to the value of such resistance for everyone who has been raised in a culture that places such great value on writing alone.
Chamoiseau began the novel with three epigraphs. One is a fragment from Italo Calvino. Anyone who has been enchanted by a work by Calvino will find Solibo Magnificent a joy to the eyes and to the inner voice that talks to us in silence.
I was in Africa. This isn't Africa. This is its own culture, language and people. As usual, the biggest, blackest, most African, former slave guy (Congo) gets it the worst which I found disturbing. My distress at his crashing through a window to escape was another reader's heroic escape. In Africa age is revered. In this novel it is only talk. Actions say otherwise. No one escapes unchanged.
One of the main characters seems to be the character Edwidge Danticat based her novel, the Dew Breaker, about a torturer, on. The resolutions are different. Danticat finds the crime unforgiveable. Chamoiseau has the torturer change and become a better person through the events and interaction with other characters in the novel and a realization of the value of his culture. Danticat has the easier solution; you are bad. You are going to stay bad. You should spend the rest of eternity in Hell if not prison. Chamoiseau coughs up Higher Understanding which is uncomfortable but awesome.
Solibo yells, "Patat, sa" his last cry but "only the dumb yam... holds out its roots for you to yank out of its home." It is a novel of place and time, a people soon to be lost to our understanding.
As other reviewers have noted, this story is not only about the death and murder investigation of a beloved storyteller, but about the death of the oral tradition in general. Chamoiseau leaves no doubt that he intends the reader to walk away with this notion. Written words are inadequate to describe the power of the spoken; one has only to read the reconstructed version of Solibo's last words at the end of the book to understand this. Despite the somewhat heavy-handed approach to his theme, Chamoiseau tells a riveting story with natural lyricism. (Kudos to the translators!)
This author deserves a much wider readership (or is it audience?)