School Days

Overview

School Days (Chemin-d’Ecole) is a captivating narrative based on Patrick Chamoiseau’s childhood in Fort-de-France, Martinique. It is a revelatory account of the colonial world that shaped one of the liveliest and most creative voices in French and Caribbean literature today.
 
Through the eyes of the boy Chamoiseau, we meet his severe, Francophile teacher, a man intent upon banishing all remnants of Creole from his students’ speech. This ...

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Overview

School Days (Chemin-d’Ecole) is a captivating narrative based on Patrick Chamoiseau’s childhood in Fort-de-France, Martinique. It is a revelatory account of the colonial world that shaped one of the liveliest and most creative voices in French and Caribbean literature today.
 
Through the eyes of the boy Chamoiseau, we meet his severe, Francophile teacher, a man intent upon banishing all remnants of Creole from his students’ speech. This domineering man is succeeded by an equally autocratic teacher, an Africanist and proponent of “Negritude.” Along the way we are also introduced to Big Bellybutton, the class scapegoat, whose tales of Creole heroes and heroines, magic, zombies, and fantastic animals provide a fertile contrast to the imported French fairy tales told in school.
 
In prose punctuated by Creolisms and ribald humor, Chamoiseau infuses the universal terrors, joys, and disappointments of a child’s early school days with the unique experiences of a Creole boy forced to confront the dominant culture in a colonial school. School Days mixes understanding with laughter, knowledge with entertainment—in ways that will fascinate and delight readers of all ages.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement
"An engaging and warm-hearted introduction to Chamoiseau’s world."—Times Literary Supplement
New York Times Book Review
"A bewitching writer . . . Chamoiseau’s particular gift is to be both buoyant in spirit and trenchant in observation."—New York Times Book Review
Los Angeles Times
"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
Chicago Tribune
"A joy to read."—Chicago Tribune
Washington Post
"Imaginative and moving." —Washington Post
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 poetryoften delivered by a Greek chorus of Rpondeursand 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 "Rpondeurs:/ 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.
Library Journal
A Prix Goncourt novelist from Martinique, Chamoiseau Texaco, Pantheon, 1997, continues the narration of his immersion in the alien land of French primary education with what may well be the most moving book published in French in 20 years. Despite the harshness of his experience, self-pity is absent; nostalgia, unthinkable. Survival requires mastery of French culture; integrity requires preservation of Martinican Creole. The hero is the "little black boy" negrillon, and his hangman/savior is a composite "Teacher." Chamoiseau, who is a collaborator of folklorist Rafal Confiant, achieves distance through the use of the refrain cues of oral storytellers. Translator Coverdale provides only as much of a glossary as the author allowed her and compensates by the clarity of English for the loss of the polysemy embedded in the French e.g., the French title Chemin d'cole suggests not only that there is a way to school, but also that "school" is the way to take. Our reading repertory is truly enriched with Chamoiseau.Marilyn Gaddis Rose, SUNY at Binghamton
Kirkus Reviews
Having already evoked the Creole experience in folktale (Creole Folktales, 1995) and novel (Texaco, 1997, which won France's Prix Goncourt), Martinique's Chamoiseau proves an inventive memoirist in his account of a boy's struggle to keep his identity in a school committed to crushing it.

In the first part, a "little black boy" badgers his mother to let him go to school; in the second part, he comes to regret his wish. Some of the school's terrors—sadistic teachers, schoolyard bullies—seem overly familiar. What is fresh is this school's systematic effort to root the Creole—"po'-nigger talk" associated with poverty and subjection—out of the children and substitute pure French, the language of Martinique's imperial masters. The attempt results mainly in fostering shame and resentment as the students cling to their identity. The child's limited consciousness of this struggle ("his tongue soon seemed heavy to him . . . his accent hateful") is expertly blended with the adult's awareness of the larger cultural issues. Never a simpleminded ideologue (he ridicules a substitute teacher whose black pride prevented him from "tackl[ing] either the Universal or its world order"), the author sympathetically portrays the Francophile teacher's motives while condemning his actions; the preferred butt of the teacher's cruelty, Big Bellybutton, is also a memorable character. The irony of a memoir written in French about the evils of French language education is not evaded: The gift of letters is ultimately shown to be "an inky lifeline of survival" that allows the author to preserve Creole oral culture. That culture infuses his prose, vividly written in storyteller's rhythms and peppered with such Creole phrases as "ziggedy-devil." Though sometimes distracting, the use of a chorus of répondeurs and frequent shifting from third- person singular to first-person plural help transport the reader inside a foreign sensibility.

Sometimes reading like an archetypal narrative of cultural domination, sometimes like an intimate memory from one's own childhood, this memoir rewards the effort to learn its language.

Milan Kundera
"Those who are nauseated by today's monstrous ‘kitschification’ of childhood (literary kitschification, media kitschification, advertising kitschification) will find in this book a rehabilitation of childhood; of an unsentimentalized childhood, that was real, difficult, plebian, and worthy of love."—Milan Kundera
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803263765
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1997
  • Pages: 146
  • Product dimensions: 5.02 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet 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.

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