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School Days


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About the Author

Patrick Chamoiseau's novel, Texaco, won the coveted Prix Goncourt in 1992 and has since been published in fourteen languages. He lives in Martinique. His Creole Folktales recently appeared in a widely praised English translation by Linda Coverdale whose many other translations include Annie Ernaux's A Frozen Woman.


In this rhythmic narrative set in Fort de France, Martinique, the author of the 1992 Prix Goncourt-winning Texaco (reviewed PW 12/09/96) recalls his days spent at colonial school. Amidst snatches of poetry-often delivered by a Greek chorus of Répondeurs-and prose that is both sardonic and lyrical, the author tells the story of his youthful self, "the little black boy" who longs to learn of the world beyond his home. But he attends a school where "speech became a heroic feat"; his teacher brandishes a switch for students who lapse from proper French into their native Creole tongue, and his classmates can be equally brutal to those who cling to their Creole ways. One classmate in particular seems to suffer from children and adults alike. Big Bellybutton is a target of bullies who later will be absorbed by stories of his Creole history. Eventually, this same child will surrender to the requirements of their fanatic teacher and forever lose his exuberance as a result ("Répondeurs:/ Smackenwhackem!/ Slicendicem!/ Lashenbashem!"). But this teacher gave Chamoiseau his appreciation for literature. These memories recall the education of a young writer in the alternately humorous and tragic combination of a teacher who treated books "like treasures sacred to a timeless ritual of which you were the last hierophant" and Big Bellybutton, the tormented student who endowed his "underground language... with a latent strength whose combustive power I would realize only many years later." (Mar.)

"An engaging and warm-hearted introduction to Chamoiseau's world."-Times Literary Supplement * Times Literary Supplement *
"A bewitching writer . . . Chamoiseau's particular gift is to be both buoyant in spirit and trenchant in observation."-New York Times Book Review * New York Times Book Review *
"Sardonic and lyrical."-Publishers Weekly * Publishers Weekly *
"Chamoiseau's language is a curious mixed breed, enough classical French to please the Academy and enough Creole to paint his subject. It is a sophisticated mixture of music and meaning."-Los Angeles Times * Los Angeles Times *
"A joy to read."-Chicago Tribune * Chicago Tribune *
"Imaginative and moving." -Washington Post * Washington Post *

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