First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
In this beautifully crafted, Rashomon-like novel, Maryse Condé has written a gripping story imbued with all the nuances and traditions of Caribbean culture.
Francis Sancher – a handsome outsider, loved by some and reviled by others – is found dead, face down in the mud on a path outside Riviere au Sel, a small village in Guadeloupe. None of the villagers are particularly surprised, since Sancher, a secretive and melancholy man, had often predicted an unnatural death for himself. As the villagers come to pay their respects they each – either in a speech to the mourners or in an internal monologue – reveal another piece of the mystery behind Sancher’s life and death. Like pieces of an elaborate puzzle, their memories interlock to create a rich and intriguing portrait of a man and a community. In the lush and vivid prose for which she has become famous, Condé has constructed a Guadeloupean wake for Francis Sancher. Retaining the full color and vibrancy of Condé’s homeland, Crossing the Mangroves pays homage to Guadeloupe in both subject and structure.
Another work week has come to a close. I am just happy I managed to get through the week. I am looking forward to the weekend. It is time to chill for the weekend; for the second consecutive weekend, I will be having a carefree one, something that is a rarity this past three months. I hope you all had a great week and that you are all doing well, physically, mentally, and psychologically. Otherwise, I hope things will look up in the coming days. I hope you are all safe from the pandemic, which is as present as ever. I just hope that this pandemic will end soon and that the path towards healing will commence soon.
Fridays also mean it is time for a First Impression update. May, just like March and April, is a themed month. From African literature to Asian literature, I am now immersing in the works of Latin American and Caribbean writers. I have already read two books and I am into my third, Guadeloupean novelist Maryse Condé’s Crossing the Mangrove. This is my first novel by the prolific writer who, I have learned, was a commanding figure in the world of Caribbean literature; she is practically a royalty.
I first came across Maryse Condé during the leadup to the 2018/2019 Nobel Prize in Literature awarding. She was touted by many a literary pundit as one of the leading figures. Unfortunately, Maryse Condé missed the cut and the award was given to Peter Handke (2019) and Olga Tokarczuk (2018). Nevertheless, my interest was piqued for she was an unfamiliar name nor have I encountered any of her works before. The first time I encountered one of her books, Crossing the Mangrove, in the bookstore (actually through the 2020 Big Bad Wolf Sale), I didn’t hesitate in adding it to my cart. This was despite the fact that I barely had any iota on what the novel was about. I have to start somewhere I guess.
I was supposed to read a different work, Augusto Roa Bastos’ I The Supreme but then I realized I have Maryse Condé’s Crossing the Mangrove, which is also a part of my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. In reading the novel, I am basically hitting more than two birds with one stone. Crossing the Mangrove commenced with the death of Francis Sancher, a Cuban who migrated to Riviere au Sel, a small village in Guadeloupe. Appearing out-of-the-blue one day, he was an enigma to many of the locals, who were either resentful or oblivious of his presence. Nevertheless, the newcomer tried to immerse in the local atmosphere.
Francis’ story was woven through the narrative of various locals who he has encountered and has interacted with. It was almost like an elegy for Franchis Sancher, the outsider whose story nobody was fully able to understand. Sancher was veiled in mystery, and, in a small village, the odd one out is typically the subject of everyone’s interest. In his stay in Riviere au Sel, he gained some friends and also some enemies. His profile was built through the voices of these secondary characters.
Whilst the mystery surrounding Sancher’s history was the primary object of everyone’s fascination, these characters ended up telling the readers more about themselves than about Sancher. Condé’s writing was lush but subtle, underscoring seminal themes with her deft descriptions and metaphors. I am about halfway through the novel but can’t help but be amazed by Condé’s prose. Yes, the mystery surrounding Sancher will probably be unraveled, or perhaps not for what really creates an impression are the narrators and Sancher was a mere catalyst in exposing the tension that has always been lingering on the surface.
I can’t wait to complete this novel for there are questions that are longing for some answers. How about you fellow reader, what book are you going to read this weekend? I hope it is a book that you’ve been looking forward to and I hope you enjoy it. Keep safe, and happy weekend