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Windward Heights

Overview

Prizewinning writer Maryse Condé reimagines Emily Brontë's passionate novel as a tale of obsessive love between the "African" Razyé and Cathy, the mulatto daughter of the man who takes Razyé in and raises him, but whose treatment goads him into rebellious flight. Retaining the emotional power of the original, Condé shows the Caribbean society in the wake of emancipation.

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Overview

Prizewinning writer Maryse Condé reimagines Emily Brontë's passionate novel as a tale of obsessive love between the "African" Razyé and Cathy, the mulatto daughter of the man who takes Razyé in and raises him, but whose treatment goads him into rebellious flight. Retaining the emotional power of the original, Condé shows the Caribbean society in the wake of emancipation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Windward Heights

"Condé is a masterly storyteller who also proves deft at reinterpretting other people's stories, as she shows here with this energetic reimagining of Wuthering Heights here set in Cuba and Guadeloupe at the turn of the century."
The New York Times Book Review

"Condé gives Brontë a cultural context ... a fine and unique accomplishment."
Washington Post

"Through [Condé's] transformation of the tragedy in Wuthering Heights, she creates a narrative that seduces, evokes and makes us think about the kinds of emotions that have moved human beings throughout our existence."
Chicago Tribune

"Exotic and eloquent... Condé takes Emily Brontë's cold-climate classic on obsessive love and makes it hot and lush."
USA Today

“A confident and incisive Caribbeanization of a European master-text by a master novelist of African descent.”
Village Voice
 
“Condé has given readers an astonishing new way in which to contemplate our ancestral past.”
Black Issues Book Review
 
“The author weaves in the history of the region along with themes of passionate love, color prejudice, oppression, and social unrest to create an engaging and well-written book that is difficult to put down.”
Multicultural Review

Tony Gibbs
The latest and perhaps most ambitious novel Windward Heights is a retelling of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, set mostly in Guadeloupe in the early decades of the 20th century. The correspondences between the two stories, while fascinating, never turn the newer novel into a mere novelty piece.
&#;151 Island Magazine
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A professor of French Caribbean literature at Columbia University and a prize-winning author whose novels (including I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem and Segu) draw upon African and Caribbean history, Cond sets her latest offering--a complex reworking of Emily Bront 's Wuthering Heights--at the turn of the last century, a period of socialist organizing and social unrest in the Caribbean. The novel opens in Cuba, shortly after the death of the revolutionary Jos Mart . Razy , a young man who, as a foundling, was named for the razy , or heath, on which he was discovered in Guadeloupe, has decided to return there and exact revenge from Aymeric de Linsseuil, the rich Creole who married Razy 's beloved Catherine Gagneur, the daughter of the man who raised Razy . He achieves vengeance by marrying Aymeric's youngest sister, Irmine, but only after impregnating Catherine, who dies giving birth to their daughter, Cathy. Razy lives on, trying to learn the arts of Santeria so that he can resurrect Catherine, and becoming wealthy. He passes on his hatred of Aymeric to his first-born, the so-called Razy II. Cathy and Razy II meet and fall in love, but the scars left by one generation are borne by the next, and they cannot achieve happiness. Describing a social and political moment far more complex than Bront 's, Cond introduces a host of first-person narrations by servants, fishwives and hired hands, which are the most winning passages in the novel. Because Cond clearly knows how to weave a large and beautiful tapestry and has done so in earlier books, it's hard to say why she chose the corset of Bront 's novel. A much larger, more satisfying novel seems ready to break free from this one. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Caribbean novelist Conde's intricate retelling of Emily Bront 's Wuthering Heights recasts the tragic classic of obsession and revenge in the steamy geography of Guadeloupe and Cuba. This is a story about poverty, religion, irreligion, and deep racial tensions--among blacks, whites, mulattos, and everybody else. Orphan Rayze, named for the heath on which he was found as a young boy, is taken in by mulatto landholder Hubert Gagneur; forms an intense friendship with Gagneur's young daughter, Cathy; is shunned by Gagneur's son and heir, Justin; flees to Cuba; and then returns to Guadeloupe to find Cathy wed to the light-skinned Aymeric de Linsseuil. All of this is just the set-up for a story of desperate love and revenge with repercussions in the next generation, that cause trouble for Cathy's daughter and Rayze's son. Multiple narrators intertwine to create a mesmerizing, vivid tale. A deft reinterpretation of a classic; highly recommended.--Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Columbus, OH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781569472163
  • Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.47 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Maryse Condé is the author of I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem, Tree of Life, Crossing the Mangrove, and The Last of the African Kings, among others. She is the recipient of the prestigious French award, Le Grand Prix Littéraire de la Femme, and a Guggenheim Fellow. She is a professor of French Caribbean Literature at Columbia University. She and her husband Richard Philcox, who masterfully translated Windward Heights, divide their time between New York City and Guadeloupe.
 

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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


CUBA


The Procession at Epiphany and
the Events that Followed


Melchior headed the procession carrying the banner of his god, Chango.

    He was dressed in the god's favourite colours, with a red and white striped jacket and red cotton cambric breeches cut just above his spindly calves, which looked like guava twigs in their bobbled silk hose. A necklace threaded with glass beads, shells, dogs' teeth, alligator molars, shards of bone and pieces of flint, swung low over his belly that was as hollow as a famished wild animal's. From under his white sombrero spiked with red feathers his eyes flashed haughtily at the crowds thronged along the streets as far as the governor's palace — an edifice recently completed after hundreds of slaves had worked on it for over half a century under the orders of architects who had come all the way from Castile. Idle onlookers crammed windows and balconies of the houses that were fortunate enough to be on the route of the procession — the procession at Epiphany that marked the start of the new year. All the cabildos, the secret societies, were in attendance. Behind Melchior came the Congos and the Lucumis in blue and black, the Araras in dishevelled raffia skirts, their cheeks striped with scars slashed with a knife or a red-hot iron, and lastly the Mandingos, so elegant in their baggy breeches and the yards and yards of indigo cloth wrapped around their heads. The entire procession danced and swayed in rhythm to the worldly beat of the drums. After the Mandingos, however,the procession broke up. A motley crowd of women and children of all the colours of the rainbow, from Congo black to pass-for-white, cavorted in any old fashion. The children, boys and girls alike, showed off everything Nature had given them at birth. The women displayed the most oddly assorted rags. Some were waving lighted torches whose flame the wind flattened and sometimes even blew out; others were brandishing rara rattles or striking cymbals. Some of the dancers had pieces of mirror pinned to their breasts and wore masks of animals whose noises they imitated. Occasionally, Melchior could not help turning around and casting angry looks at the tail of the procession. Nobody paid him any attention and the bacchanal continued.

    The nine arches and ten Ionic columns on the western façade of the governor's palace filled one side of the Plaza de Armas. It was the architect Antonio Fernandez de Trevejo y Zaldinas, a man of great renown, who had begun building the residence. Sick with haemorrhagic dengue fever he had returned home to Castile to look death straight in the eyes. His young successor, Pedro Medina, had faithfully kept to the original plans, and pink marble had been imported from Italy, precious wood from Mexico and translucent blocks of madreporian stone from the Isle of Pines. In order to enhance the patio, he had recently commissioned a statue of Cristobal Colon from the sculptor Giovanni Cucciari, thinking it was time that one Italian paid homage to another.

    With the sun setting in his eyes, Excellentissimo José de Cépéro, Grand Cross of the Orders of San Fernando and San Hermenegildo, lieutenant general of the armed forces, political head and military governor of the province of Havana and captain general of the island of Cuba, watched the procession as it bounded towards him in a cloud of dust. With one hand he clutched the wrought-iron balustrade of the palace balcony; with the other, he leaned on the velvet coat of his adviser, the effeminate Silvestre de Reina, whispered to be his lover. His mask of benevolence contradicted his inner feelings. His heart was not at peace. The deaths of that troublemaker, José Martí, and the mulatto, Antonio Maceo, had done nothing to help the political situation, and the battle for independence raged on in the Sierra del Cristal. A column of Spanish soldiers had just been hacked to pieces by the so-called Liberation Army, and dozens of coffins were lined up in the cathedral under heaps of lilies and frangipani blossom. How much longer would he remain in Havana? His wife, Maria — for he was married and father of three sons — had already set sail. Above all, José de Cépéro hated these crowds of negroes and turned up his nose in disgust at the smell of sweat and filth lurking under the velvets and silks. Under pressure from the other European nations, Spain had finally abolished slavery. Now the illiterate barbarians fleeing the plantations were crowding into the hovels and gambling dens in the towns.

    He motioned to Silvestre to throw coins to the revellers, who were now dancing shamelessly under the balcony and bawling their miscreant songs that resounded noisily off the paving stones. Motionless, standing aloof from the mêlée of stooped backs, was Melchior. Leaning over, José dropped a bulging purse at his feet. For Melchior was no ordinary mortal. He was a babalawo, a high priest of santería, son of the omo-koloba, who, with the pomp due to his rank, had departed this life several years before to join Chango. José had consulted him on several occasions concerning matters of great urgency, and was about to call on his services again. In this age of chaos and calamity, a look into the future was no mean gift. Melchior thanked him with a blink, and with figure erect, disappeared under the silk-cotton and palm-trees lining the square.

    Soon the Plaza de Armas emptied.

    Congos, Lucumis, Araras and Mandingos began to swarm into the surrounding streets and paseos, and only a few tireless masked dancers remained gesticulating under the balconies, together with the women and children who took advantage of the situation to indulge in their obscenities with impunity.

    Turning his back on the palace, Melchior walked briskly to the cathedral built on the site of the former church of San Ignacio. Passers-by hurriedly made the sign of the cross when they saw him, while Melchior walked straight ahead like an automaton, heeding nobody.

    The cathedral was deserted, save for a few worshippers in the chapels, staring at the saints with tears in their eyes, kneeling on their silk handkerchiefs spread out on the marble floor, their faces drained of colour under their black mantillas forming a terrifying, baroque frieze. Melchior passed in front of a row of empty confessionals, then stopped at the chapel to Santa Barbara. By a strange twist of collusion, this frail virgin in her white dress and red cape, holding a heavy sword with both hands, was one of his god's manifestations of power. In fact her image could be seen in every temple dedicated to santería, depicted as a young Yoruba girl, her forehead haloed in frizzy hair, her cheekbones scored with scars, seated on a horse, clutching against her breast a bunch of plantains, Chango's favourite food. Melchior fell to his knees. A dream he had the previous night was plaguing him. He had seen himself suffocating in a river of his own blood. But Santa Barbara responded with a smile. At the same time a streak of lightning followed by the thunder of Chango flashed through the vividly coloured stained-glass vitrales. The interior of the nave gleamed white.

    Comforted, Melchior got up off his knees.

    When he emerged from the cathedral, red streaks dripped across the sky, the colour of sacrificial blood. This too was a good sign, and he felt fortified.

    In the calle de Mercaderes the silence was as heavy as a bundle of wet washing. The only lighted window displayed rows of motionless fans, like butterflies poised for flight. Two streets over, however, the gambling houses and dens were swarming with life. In front of the bodega La Estrella, the nightwatchman hurried to open the door. Inside, the smoke was so thick that at first nothing was visible through the dark blue coils. Then the faces of the customers emerged, blacks and mulattos, all with a cigar or a pipe stuck between their teeth, dabbing their foreheads with squares of blue batiste. Melchior needed no help from the proprietor, who was watching every movement of a young barmaid's breasts as she washed the glasses in a trickle of water. He spotted the man immediately.


As usual, Razyé was drinking alone.

    He was dressed all in black in the French fashion, from his tightly-laced leather boots to his felt hat sewn with a large hem stitch. His skin too was black, that shiny black they call Ashanti, and his hair hung in curls like those of an Indian half-caste, the Bata-Zindien. Nobody could hold the gaze of his languishing eyes, where churned who knows what pain and solitude. His expression was that of a man attending the wake of his own mother. On meeting him, you knew that you had come face to face with a soul that could find no rest, neither day nor night. Melchior could not help comparing him to a spirit of the dead, an egun, but an egun prevented by an abominable crime from joining the other invisible spirits in the afterlife and who wandered restlessly among the living. Razyé waited for him to sit down and order a mojito, before asking him in a low, rough voice: `Well?'

    Melchior avoided his gaze and drew a handful of leaves out of his shoulder pouch.

    `Wash yourself with these. For two days you must have no dealings, do you hear me, no dealings with women, and then come and see me. It will be time for the ceremony.'

    Nobody could say exactly when Razyé had arrived in Havana nor where he had come from. They only knew him by this odd name, as if his parents had not bothered to give him a saint's name on the day of his christening. Consequently, imaginations ran riot. Some said he was already on the island when Governor Pezuela had recruited free men of colour into the Spanish army to fight the rebels, and had thereby miraculously escaped the gallows despite having committed an horrendous crime. Others said that he had engaged in tobacco smuggling together with a Creole of mixed blood, and that after his associate had mysteriously died, he had spent some time in jail. For the time being he was operating a laundry business with an unscrupulous Chinaman and his carts could be seen all over town. It was said he was as rich as El Dorado. But you would never have thought so from appearances. He lived just off the Campo Santo in a dilapidated house guarded by a mangy dog, a house so dark that even in the middle of the day his quarteroon scullery-maid had to light candles. Every morning, at the same hour, Razyé walked to his business on the calle Obispo, dragging himself along under the burning sun, looking as nightmarish and bilious as the dregs of night.

    Melchior had met him the same way he met everyone else in Havana, from senior functionaries to humble citizens, one day when Razyé had sought him out to fathom his future. Melchior had immediately yielded to Razyé's strong willpower, which had taken him places he had had no intention of going. That was how he had revealed to him involuntarily the secrets reserved for babalawos, the priests of santería. He had recently undertaken to initiate him and hang around his neck Chango's five necklaces of red and white beads. When he was in his right senses, he realized just how dangerous his undertaking was. Razyé would be able to get in touch with those egun of which he was the very image, and use their powers for his own ends. And yet he was unable to resist him.

    Without removing the cigar from his mouth, Razyé began to speak in a fog of smoke.

    `I'd like you to advise me on the voyage I'm planning.'

    Melchior was taken aback.

    `A voyage? You're planning a voyage?'

    `Yes, it's time I went back home.'

    For the first time Melchior ventured a question that he had been turning over and over in his head.

    `Home is where?'

    Razyé gave one of his mournful smiles.

    `I say "home" to speak like the rest of you. But I have no home. I was found in Guadeloupe as naked as the day I was born, on the barren heath and cliffs — the razyés — hence my name.'

    Razyé said not another word and his attention wandered elsewhere, so Melchior got up and took his leave. Razyé did not even notice. While darkness tightened its grip around his shoulders, Razyé remained in solitude, locked in smoke and silence, downing glass after glass, getting more drunk by the minute, but also heavier and stiller, like a rock or a desert isle lost in the midst of the ocean's waves.

    Meanwhile, pondering on the ceremony he could not make up his mind to proceed with, Melchior walked up the avenida de Las Misiones that encircles Havana in a tight clasp. Not a star shone above his head. In the huge, Indian ink-coloured sky, the clouds jostled each other. The houses too had donned their night façades, and the babalawo strode on, draped in the blackness that he pierced with his lofty gaze. On reaching the church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje, he saw a shape steal furtively out of the shadows. He fingered the bulging purse that José de Cépéro had thrown him, for he recognized Jaruco, a dangerous individual commonly known as the Footpad, quick with a knife, who respected nobody, not even the dead.

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Table of Contents

Part One: Cuba — Guadeloupe
CUBA
1 The Procession at Epiphany and the Events that
Followed, 3
2 The Burial of the Babalawo, 11
THE CROSSING
3 Nelly Raboteur's Tale, 16
4 Nelly Raboteur's Tale (continued), 24
GUADELOUPE
5 The Return of Razyé, 33
6 Justin Gagneur's Tale, 44
7 The Belles-Feuilles Plantation, 51
8 A Forest Sojourn, 62
9 Lucinda Lucius' Tale, 67
10 Lucinda Lucius' Tale (continued), 80
11 The Wake and Cathy's Story, 84
12 Life Repeats Itself, 96
13 Irmine de Linsseuil's Tale, 100
14 Mabo Julie's Tale, 110
15 The Past Recaptured, 115
Part Two: Guadeloupe
1 A Meeting Fraught with Consequences, 127
2 Return to the Belles-Feuilles Plantation, 137
3 Losers Will Be Losers, 148
4 Sanjita the Housekeeper's Tale, 155
5 Etiennise, Sanjita's Daughter's Tale, 166
6 Back toEarth, 177
7 Barbaric Nuptials, 184
8 Mabo Sandrine's Tale, 194
9 The Farewell Ceremony, 202
10 The Farewell Ceremony (continued), 210
11 Madhi's Tale, 215
Part Three: Marie-Galante
1 O! Island in the Sun, 223
2 The School Mistress and Razyé II, 233
3 Romaine the Servant's Tale, 242
4 Political Meeting at Grand-Anse, 251
5 A Well-Kept Secret, 261
6 Death of the Wolf, 268
7 Death of the Wolf (continued), 277
8 Roro the Fisherman's Tale, 288
9 By Way of a First Epilogue, 296
Part Four: Roseau
1 Life in Roseau, 303
2 Season of Migration, 314
3 Ada the Fishwife's Tale, 323
4 Farewell to the Beloved, 330
Part Five: Guadeloupe
1 Return To My Native Land, 337
2 Return to l'Engoulvent, 345
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