It's Carnival time in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Before an uninterrupted public, Solibo Magnificent, the great teller of tales, is felled, seemingly choked by his own words. Is it autostrangulation or murder? Two police officers lead the investigation, but what they discover is a transitory universe at the threshold of oblivion - the universe of the Masters of the Word who, like Solibo, possess the gift of language: perfect for rich and boundless discourse, but not very helpful...
It's Carnival time in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Before an uninterrupted public, Solibo Magnificent, the great teller of tales, is felled, seemingly choked by his own words. Is it autostrangulation or murder? Two police officers lead the investigation, but what they discover is a transitory universe at the threshold of oblivion - the universe of the Masters of the Word who, like Solibo, possess the gift of language: perfect for rich and boundless discourse, but not very helpful for unraveling a crime.
When Solibo, one of Fort-de-France's last Creole-speaking storytellers, falls inexplicably dead during a Carnival performance, the ensuing circus-like investigation brilliantly conjures up Martinique history and Creole culture on a much smaller scale than Chamoiseau's acclaimed epic, Texaco. Led by the cerebral inspector Pilon and the hard-boiled sergeant Bouaffesse, the Francophone police are determined to crack the case, even if it means breaking a few heads along the way. Having rounded up the audience, including Chamoiseau the "word-scratcher" himself, the scrappy fruit-vendor Doudou-Mnar, the pure-blooded African "Congo" and assorted, equally vivid characters, the police find their inquiry turning comic, violent, tragic and magical as they haplessly investigate how the vagabond shaman Solibo could have had his throat "snickt by the Word." Written four years before Texaco and published in France at the same time as Creole Folktales, Chamoiseau's bewitching tale has been ably translated by Rjouis and Vinokurovas far as his poetic mix of Parnassian French and spoken Creole can be translated. At once funny and elegiac, this novel delivers Chamoiseau's return gift to his island's storytellers and confirms his place among them. (Mar.) FYI: Chamoiseau's Texaco, published here last year, won the 1992 Prix Goncourt.
Was the Creole storyteller Solibo Magnificent killed by his own words or was he murdered by one of his friends? So begins Chamoiseau's Texaco, Random, 1997 novel about the spiritual and political power of language. While frightened witnesses recount their memories of Solibo and the night he died, the ruthless and often brutal police attempt to solve the case neatly and logically. Their investigation, however, quickly degenerates into more violence and death. Originally written in Creole and French, the novel's depiction of the misunderstanding, distrust, and hatred between the French-speaking officials and the Creole-speaking residents of Martinique's slums is unfortunately lost in the English translation, in spite of an adequate explanation in the afterword by translator Rjouis. The characters are hidden in a confusing story that comes to a dry and unsatisfying conclusion, leaving the reader still wondering who Solibo Magnificent was and why he died. Recommended for libraries with a strong interest in Caribbean literature.Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L.
Chamoiseau...cries out for us to accept synthesis as the natural condition of the Caribbean -- and, increasingly, of the modern world...."Solibo Magnificent" wonderfully illustrates the moment when oral literature reluctantly leaves the stage clear for the written word. -- Caryl Phillips, The New York Times Book Review
NY Times Book Review
Published in French in 1988, this novel concerns a storyteller whose death from strangulation by words is an emblem of French in conflict with Creole and of the author's will to pick up where the CAribbean oral tradition left off.
A captivatingly exotic earlier novel (written in 1988) by the Martiniquean author of the Prix Goncourtwinning Texaco (1993). As in that later book, Chamoiseau treats, with both rich humor and controlled fury, the imposition of French language and law on its island colony's basically Creole culture. Here, his vehicle is a highly unconventional detective story. A legendary storyteller in the racially mixed city of Fort-de-France, the eponymous "Solibo Magnificent," is discovered dead, of unknown causes, though the local police suspect poisoning (even as many testify that "Solibo hadn't swallowed a thing, and no one had come near him"). Police Sergeant Philemon Bouffasse (a notorious adulterer) and his superior, by-the-book Chief Inspector Evariste Pilon, detain and interrogate 14 witnesses (one of whom is "word-scratcher" Patrick Chamoiseau), occasioning a colorful composite picture of the little world in which Solibo was revered. There gradually emerges an image of the great storyteller as a visionary who, like Christ in the wilderness, wandered alone in the forest (where "he spoke to the stones and the bark"), and thereafter gained fame for such exploits as calming a "mad pig" resisting slaughter and saving the life of a woman street-vendor by charming a menacing "long one" (snake). The novel is further fleshed out by Chamoiseau's droll parodies of the classic detective story (e.g., "that appalling mystery of the old mulatto woman killed in a sealed hutch"), and by his moving attribution of his own ability to "find sense in writing" from the example of the beloved Solibo. Though the mystery of the latter's death is never literally "solved," it's made stunningly clear that it is the artof oral storytelling that has been "killed" by its contact with a world unable to hear and feel its revivifying rhythms. A wonderful novel well served by a helpful Glossary and Afterword, as well as by a superlative translation that brings its exotic world exhilaratingly close to our own.