by Patrick Chamoiseau ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 1, 1998
A captivatingly exotic earlier novel (written in 1988) by the Martiniquean author of the Prix Goncourt--winning Texaco (1993). As in that later book, Chamoiseau treats, with both rich humor and controlled fury, the imposition of French language and law on its island colony's basically Creole culture. Here, his vehicle is a highly unconventional detective story. A legendary storyteller in the racially mixed city of Fort-de-France, the eponymous ""Solibo Magnificent,"" is discovered dead, of unknown causes, though the local police suspect poisoning (even as many testify that""Solibo hadn't swallowed a thing, and no one had come near him""). Police Sergeant Philemon Bouffasse (a notorious adulterer) and his superior, by-the-book Chief Inspector Evariste Pilon, detain and interrogate 14 witnesses (one of whom is ""word-scratcher"" Patrick Chamoiseau), occasioning a colorful composite picture of the little world in which Solibo was revered. There gradually emerges an image of the great storyteller as a visionary who, like Christ in the wilderness, wandered alone in the forest (where ""he spoke to the stones and the bark""), and thereafter gained fame for such exploits as calming a ""mad pig"" resisting slaughter and saving the life of a woman street-vendor by charming a menacing ""long one"" (snake). The novel is further fleshed out by Chamoiseau's droll parodies of the classic detective story (e.g., ""that appalling mystery of the old mulatto woman killed in a sealed hutch""), and by his moving attribution of his own ability to ""find sense in writing"" from the example of the beloved Solibo. Though the mystery of the latter's death is never literally ""solved,"" it's made stunningly clear that it is the art of oral storytelling that has been ""killed"" by its contact with a world unable to hear and feel its revivifying rhythms. A wonderful novel well served by a helpful Glossary and Afterword, as well as by a superlative translation that brings its exotic world exhilaratingly close to our own.
Pub Date: March 1, 1998
Page Count: 208
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998
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