In this compelling travel memoir, two-time PEN/Faulkner Award winner John Edgar Wideman explores Martinique's seductive natural beauty and culture, as well as its vexed history of colonial violence and racism. Attempting to decipher the strange, alluring mixture of African and European that is Creole, he and his French traveling companion develop a powerful attraction to one another which they find at once threatened and elevated by a third party—the island itself. A rich intersection of place, history, and the intricacies of human relations, Wideman's story gets deep into the Caribbean and close to the heart of the Creole experience.
Given "the opportunity to go anywhere in the world and write about it," the distinguished and prolific novelist, autobiographer, story writer and essayist Wideman chose to spend three winter weeks on Martinique. He offers this prose poem, at times lyrical, at times streetwise, as "the record of a visit." Personal diary merges with meditations provoked by the shadow of slavery and the consequent Creolization in the New World. Wideman explores, as a stream-of-consciousness novelist or a jazz musician might, writing, clothing, language, hair, Thomas Jefferson, Shakespeare's The Tempest and the guided tour. He juxtaposes the real-life, real-time interracial love affair in the book's first half with a storyteller's less joyful alternate-universe invention in the second half. A semimonologue offers readers "a brief foray" into the mind of P re Labat, priest and plantation manager, as an example of "the seduction of unfettered license, the extremes of violence and compulsion we perpetrate on one another." In a 10-page tour-de-force sentence set simultaneously in 1902 and the present, Wideman re-creates and reimagines the catastrophic eruption of Mount Pel e, in which 30,000 died. While there is a map and a time line, this book won't help visitors with where to go and what to eat. Still, Wideman delivers "improvisation, spontaneity, play, breaking rules," always the literate and impassioned sojourner.