BETWEEN TWO WORLDS by Simone Schwarz-Bart


Email this review


Schwarz-Bart (The Bridge of Beyond) again nestles her story within her native Guadeloupe--and again there's rather more mystery, implausibility, myth, and magic than the author can quite handle effectively. Ti-Jean l'Horizon is born in the hill-village of Fond-Zombi; he's the grandson of old Eusebius (a ""Negro of knowledge""--which means a sorcerer, a metamorphoser) and a young man of great strength, beauty, and openness. (He also has the handy knack of becoming a bird when he wants to.) Then, when a solar eclipse occurs, it sends many Guadeloupians reeling, ""specially afflicted because of the blackness of their souls and of their blood,"" a start of bad times which soon turn Ti-Jean into a fugitive after he kills a soldier who manhandled Ti-Jean's lover, Egea. It's at this point that Schwarz-Bart really lets things fantastically rip: the eclipse is a manifestation of the swallowing of the sun by the cow-like Great Beast; fugitive Ti-Jean confronts the Beast and then enters her mouth and body--the interior of which turns out to be Africa. And the book's middle section is Ti-Jean among the Ba'Sonanke tribe of Dahomey (of Africa, of the Great Beast), with a yet lower expedition to come into the Kingdom of the Dead . . . and an ultimate return (via France) back to Guadeloupe to fight against the darkness of the Beast (i.e., colonialism and the old remnants of slavery). The politics here are stark; but Schwarz-Bart rolls out magical change after magical change like bolts of silk, so there's never the feeling of tract. There is, though, so relentless a rinse of myth--in rhythmic, image-filled prose that's reminiscent of a Greek-tragedy chorus--that it's hard to stay with the story: the changes break as regularly as waves, leading to a slight hypnosis. So, without the genuine poetic grip of a Toni Morrison, this is slow going--and mostly for dedicated ethno-fantasists.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row