Joseph Zobel is a writer from Martinique. In his book entitled La Rue Cases Negres, Joseph Zobel invites you to live out ,through his personal memories, black folks’ struggle in the Martinique of the 30’s. Published in the 50’s, his book will allow the reader to acknowledge, thanks to his accurate and sharp descriptions, a young boy’s harsh conditions of living at his grandmother Tine’s hut. Granny Tine works pretty much like a slave at a sugar cane plantation, while Jose, her grandson feels free to hang around with other boys. Despite granny Tine’s caring love ( she is always trying to preserve the kid from hunger, by preparing and reserving half of her lunch for him), Jose experiences hunger during his grandmother’s absence- which he is trying to compensate by stealing food around.
Although his life is real hard, the young boy takes pleasure in some true friendship, like this extraordinary exchange between him and Monsieur Melouze, an old plantation worker he visits every evening. The old man keeps telling him about Guinea, his country of origin, a place where people struggle less, according to him.
Jose lives far away from his mom, who works as a domestic employee in Fort de France, which allows her to send a little bit money for her son.
Thanks to his vivacious intelligence, Jose will win a difficult contest that will allow him to go to school and to get some education. Circumstances change and the young boy will soon leave ” Rue Cases Negres” for a more comfortable quarter, Cour Fusil.
Due to the distance from his home, the young boy will experience exploitation by a dishonest woman during midday. Hunger will take place again too…The birth of brand new friendships will allow the young boy to enter a new universe, in which he’ll feel pretty much comfortable.
He will also discover his friend’s pain and misery.
Third step: Jose wins a scolarship that allows him to attend high school at Fort de France. New hopes to help his family get out of misery are now permitted. Maybe he’ll be able to take some office job if he succeeds well at school. But it is difficult to adapt there. Kids are distant. Jose doesn’t work as well as expected…until his mom breaks down in tears.
He suddenly gets noticed for his outstanding work.
Soon, he’ll get familiar with author works. Another factor then comes to destabilize him: his mom will be employed elsewhere…it is quite far away from their home.
Jose is maybe ,like many writers, a dreamer. He soon will skip school to take some big walks through different Fort de France quarters and sit in his bedroom while reading French literature.
The book tragically ends with Jose’s grandmother’s death. The young man is unfortunate, because only his mom will be the witness of his granny’s last moments.
Joseph Zobel’s descriptions of Carribbean food, the way he puts his granny’s face, clothes and body under the microscope, his interesting way of telling Martinican tales and superstitions, his description of the three classes ( bekes, white people; bi racial people and black people) that shape Martinican society, the veracity of his feelings make an outstanding writer of him.
If you intend to read this book in French, you will need to have an above average level, because the language is chosen and subtle.
I think that this book addresses people of any background, not only black people. If you ever wondered why there is so much resentment from black people towards white people in the Carribbeans, Joseph Zobel’s book will enlighten it for you.
Regarding its numerous narrative aspects and figures of style, this book is truly a gem. I suggest you all have a look at this Carribbean masterpiece.
Copyright by Isabelle Esling
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