Dear readers:
For our sixth anniversary in May 2010, The Caribbean Review of Books has launched a new website at www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com. Antilles has now moved to www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/antilles — please update your bookmarks and RSS feed. If you link to Antilles from your own blog or website, please update that too!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

"Paris soit ce soir une ville martiniquaise"

"This evening, Paris is a Martinican city"--a rather lovely line (roughly translated) from the speech made earlier by Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, at a memorial ceremony for Aimé Césaire. Le Figaro reports:

Une minute de silence. Puis une veillée avec chants et musique créole. «Aux Antilles, la mort n'est pas un moment de pleurs mais un moment de joie. Ce soir, nous allons fêter un grand homme, un grand Français en espérant que son message ne sera pas oublié» a déclaré Patrick Karam, délégué interministériel pour l'Egalité des chances des Français d'outre-mer. Plusieurs centaines de personnes se sont rassemblées samedi sur la place de la Sorbonne à Paris pour une veillée «à la mode antillaise» en hommage au poète.

Remembering Césaire

le monde cesaire

Aimé Césaire on the front page of today's Le Monde

Some more of the tributes to Aimé Césaire that have appeared online since his death on Thursday:

For poets such as Césaire, freedom is not an abstract idea. His legacy is for us to pursue freedom (self-actualization) in the body and the mind—the abilty to realize the full expression of an individual talent unbound by race, class, creed, religion, gender or sexual preference.

For if the goal of any life is freedom, then Aimé Césaire was a light.

-- Geoffrey Philp, from a thoughtful short essay posted at his blog on Friday.

It is not often that politics and poetry go together, but when they do, the West Indies is as fertile an environment as any for the two to coexist. Césaire seamlessly blended his love for language, ideas and writing into his political life, which spanned almost 60 years.

-- From the Global Voices roundup of bloggers' reactions to Césaire's death, with links to tributes from Martinique, Trinidad, Senegal, Congo, Togo, and the United States; authored by Jennifer Brea and Janine Mendes-Franco.

Il est extrêmement frappant de voir qu'en Martinique chacune et chacun a un Césaire à raconter. Son Césaire. Le grand homme, il est vrai, a de quoi nourrir diversement les uns et les autres : noir, poète, élu, humaniste. Il a, peu ou prou, accompagné tous ses compatriotes de son île natale.

-- From a memoir of Césaire by Patrice Louis, Le Monde's correspondent in Martinique, and author of Conversations avec Aimé Césaire, posted yesterday at the Le Monde website (in French).

We have all been marked by the universal import of Aimé Césaire’s call for human dignity, watchfulness and responsibility.

-- From UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura's statement on Thursday.

Très émus, mais dans une ambiance sereine, souvent joyeuse, les habitants de Fort-de-France et des autres communes de l'île, tous âges confondus, ont applaudi le passage du fourgon transportant la dépouille de Césaire en chantant, en scandant son nom ou en brandissant des portraits du poète. Des inscriptions «Merci Papa Aimé» ou «Merci Césaire», avaient été tracées à la peinture sur les trottoirs et des portraits du poète collés aux murs.

-- From a report in Le Figaro on the first stage of Césaire's funeral procession in Fort-de-France yesterday (in French).

aime cesaire autograph

Césaire's autograph, dated November 2005, from the collection of St. Lucian poet John Robert Lee

Thursday, 17 April 2008

R.I.P. Aimé Césaire, 25 June, 1913-17 April, 2008

Sad (but not entirely unexpected) news from Martinique this morning: Aimé Césaire, one of the Caribbean's (and France's) major writers, leader of the negritude movement, and author of the seminal Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, has died at the age of 94, after being admitted to hospital last week. In the coming days, tributes will flow from writers across the Caribbean. Here are the first wire service reports: from the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

... when my turn comes into the air
I will raise up a cry so violent
that I will spatter the sky utterly
and by my shredded branches
and by the insolent jet of my solemn wounded bole

I shall command the islands to exist

-- from "Lost Body", by Aimé Césaire, trans. E. Anthony Hurley


Le Figaro posts a gallery of Césaire images.

Le Monde posts the reactions of senior French politicians, including President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Naipaul, Naipaul, Naipaul

So many reviews of Patrick French's biography The World Is What It Is, each one sounding much like the last--the same repetition of the list of Sir Vidia's sins, with emphasis on his marital life and sex "secrets", garnished by comments on the monstrousness of the man, and largely simplifying the subtleties, complexities, and ironies of the book. I was half in mind to do a follow-up roundup of TWIWIS coverage, but it's too exhausting to contemplate anything comprehensive--so I'll link to just a couple more reviews. First Hilary Spurling's in the UK Observer, which is illustrated with what is now my favourite photo of Naipaul, by Eamonn McCabe:

Second, Sunil Khilnani's review in Outlook India, which incisively describes what he calls French's "myth-puncturing"--his careful consideration of the uncomfortable but very human truths behind Naipaul's artfully crafted public persona. Khilnani concludes:

Naipaul came to perfect this stance: controlling a situation by appearing helpless, then getting others to do his bidding--while making them feel that they were doing it inadequately. In this biography, however, this method has failed him. This may be an authorised biography, but it is firmly and in every sense in Patrick French's control--and he has written a superb account of the life, as what it is. Now, knowing the myth, having read the life, one goes back to the work. That is Naipaul's monument. We are many, who lead less than exemplary lives; but very few are able to turn the matter of their lives into great work. Naipaul, as Patrick French lets us still better see, is one of them.

Meanwhile, it is announced today that TWIWIS has been longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction, sponsored by the BBC.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

"Somewhere in the Zone"

Over at Amazon's Omnivoracious blog, Brad Thomas Parsons has not only managed to snag a post-Pulitzer interview with Junot Diaz--he actually has the opening passage of Diaz's current work-in-progress, "Dark America", which starts:

I'm somewhere in the Zone, traveling on top of an transport. Bound for City.

The only City there is....

"Who knows when it will ever see the light of day again," says Diaz, making it sound like his readers will have to wait another eleven years....

Don't forget Shiva

From the midst of the flood of Naipaul-biography coverage, Nilanjana S. Roy reminds us, in the pages of the India Business Standard, about "The Other Naipaul Boy"--V.S.'s brother Shiva:

I remember The Fireflies and The Chip-Chip Gatherers as well-turned but slight novels, and the passage of years has preserved them well without transmuting them into classics. Both were set in Trinidad; for both Naipauls, the island that one sought to escape and the other sought to explore was a necessary source of material. The Fireflies offered a haunting image to set against the plight of those who couldn’t get away: fireflies trapped in a bottle, casting a beautiful light, but unable to find an escape. The Chip-Chip Gatherers has often been compared to V S Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas, to its detriment. It is clear from both novels, though, that Shiva had a way of seeing that was very much his own, and a fascination with the politics of identity that would never leave him.

(Small quibble--that should be Fireflies, no definite article....)