Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from French and Creole by Linda Coverdale, is a novel rich in sublime language, highly evocative imagery, and a heart-in-mouth narrative. It is set in Martinique in self described ‘slavery times,‘ and follows a ‘slave old man‘ fleeing a sugar plantation on which he has spent his life. The plot itself is quick paced and immediately draws the reader in, but what bowled me over was the use of language. I would recommend reading the translator’s note prior to starting the novel – not only is it fascinating but it also explains the use throughout the novel of Creole language particularly. So much of Chamoiseau’s writing is an homage to the language itself, and at times I felt I was wading through its literary density, much as our title character was making his way through the unforgiving landscape on his run to freedom.
I cannot speak about this book and not mention the other main perspective we ‘hear’ from – in pursuit of the man is a mastiff led by the plantation master. The mastiff is feverish and maniacal, and haunts the slaves on the plantation both with his presence watching over them each day but particularly in their stories of escape attempts. The mental interplay between the man and mastiff is responsible for as much of the tempo in this as the literal pursuit.
I have not seen anything about this wonderful novel in my corner of the book community, and want to shout from the rooftops for people to pick it up! Thanks to NetGalley and The New Press for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.