paper 0-8032-6382-1 A prequel to Chamoiseau’s School Days (1997), this slim, sometimes rambling, sometimes stirringly poignant account covers the novelist’s (Texaco, 1997, etc.) early childhood between first cognition and education. Writing about himself in the third person as “the boy,” Chamoiseau savors the smallest recollected details of Martinique’s rich Creole culture. From the limber patois and its incantatory intonations to irrefrangible smells and savory tastes, the island holds a spell over him that is more about the man than the boy. Yet Chamoiseau is too clear-eyed to revel in childhood’s lost sensual word. The man knows it is inextricably limned in by amorality, heedless cruelty, and intimations of mortality. There is the annual family pig, much beloved, carefully fed, honored with a name, and which still makes its way to the Christmas table. There is the constant struggle of his mother, Ma Ninotte, to stay out of debt. And when she’s deeply in debt to a particular merchant, it is the boy who is sent in her stead to do the shopping. There is the boy’s holy war, fed by rocks and matches, against insects and rats, which ends when he realizes he cannot kill an aging rat, which he calls the Old Man: “They [the rats] transformed the little boy’s nature. Beneath the killer lay the makings of someone who is incapable of doing the slightest harm to the most despicable of the green flies.” This account does suffer from the problem inherent in most recollections of earliest childhood: once you—re past the luxurious tapestry of details and burgeoning awareness, there isn—t much else beyond disparate anecdotes. It can and does get boring fast. Chamoiseau’s style is an unusual and effective blend of high and low French and Creole, but despite translator Volk’s best efforts, it doesn—t quite come across in English, seeming more precious and affected than original. This autobiographical fragment may not dim Chamoiseau’s growing reputation but it won—t illuminate it either.