THE SLAVE TRAIL by Alain Gerber


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From award-winning French writer Gerber (Rumors of an Elephant; The Short Happy Life of Mr. Ghichka), a short, involuted narrative--about a blocked writer who decides on a Caribbean journey--that has the best of two worlds: it's not only a deft adventure story but also a metaphysical quest. Clement Calderanz, a celebrated writer, has written an essay on inspiration that impresses everyone but himself. As an esthete, he realizes he's tried to ""take a shortcut around experience."" So, invoking Hemingway and Conrad, he gathers up his wife Nathalie, Paul (his prot‚g‚), and Tom (an American writer in Europe to purge himself of violence after Vietnam) to explore an ancient slave trail. Things quickly go wrong, however. Calderanz, obsessed, fails to heed warnings about the deranged Colonel Paradise, who allegedly lives in the Mirror Swamp; Calderanz and Paul fight over fiction and over Nathalie; while Tom broods aloud about a writer's fate. They encounter implements of torture on the trail and two young missionaries with a bookmobile. After much landscape and some gunplay, the group (minus Paul, who leaves when Nathalie rejects him) discovers that they have been actors ""in a huge pantomine"" (there has been a good deal of foreshadowing along the way): Colonel Paradise is a fictional creation of a local priest, invented with native collusion to scare away the tourists--and the myth becomes a self-perpetuating parody of imperialism. Then Calderanz dies, and Nathalie admits that she ""actually existed"" only after she came upon his books. Both a parody of and homage to the literature of experience (especially Heart of Darkness), and constructed, along the way, as an absorbing game of literary chess.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1989
Publisher: Mercury House--dist. by Consortium (213 East 4th St., St. Paul, MN 55101)