Prior to 2019, I have never heard of nor encountered any works by Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé. It was during the lead-up to the announcement of the 2018/2019 Nobel Prize in Literature winners that I first encountered her. Many a literary pundit was calling her a highly possible recipient of the award. In 2018, she was the first recipient of The New Academy Prize in Literature, an alternate award to the Nobel Prize; the 2018 winner was belatedly announced in 2019 due to controversies.

While Condé did not win the award, it was enough to direct my attention to a new-to-me author. Luckily enough, I was able to obtain a copy of one of her works, Crossing the Mangrove, during the 2020 Big Bad Wolf Sale, just a month before the Philippines went into lockdown due to rising COVID19 cases. Because of my anticipation for the book, I listed the book as part of my 2021 Top 21 Reading List and was eventually part of my first-ever Latin American reading month/s. The book gave me an intimate peek into Condé’s prose even though it was considered one of her less popular works. Nonetheless, the dive into community life examined through the death of a foreigner was a literary piece I relished. What also drew me in was the lyrical quality of Condé’s prose. For this quotable quotes update, I have rounded some of the memorable lines and passages from my first-ever Condé novel.

Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.


You don’t cross a mangrove. You’d spike yourself on the roots of the mangrove trees. You’d be sucked down and suffocated by the brackish mud.

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

You, do you believe we are born the day we are born? When we land up sticky and blindfolded in the hands of a midwife? I’m telling you we’re born well before that. Hardly have we swallowed our first breath of air than we already have to account for every original sin, every sin through deed and omission, every venial and mortal sin committed by men and women who have long returned to dust, but leave their crimes intact within us. I believed I could escape punishment! I couldn’t!

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

How true! Life’s problems are like trees. We see the trunk, we see the branches and the leaves. But we can’t see the roots, hidden deep down under the ground. And yet it is their shape and nature and how far they dig into the slimy humus to search for water that we need to know. Then perhaps we would understand.

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

No. Nothing had emerged from the opaque waters of sleep. As usual, ever since she had moved deeper into the depths of old age, she has dreamt of her sister who had died without experiencing the vicissitudes of marriage and the joys of motherhood like herself; she had dreamt of her mother who had experienced both, and there the two of them were, back in good health before their sickness and suffering, looking as young as ever, waiting for her at the open gates to Eternal Life.

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

Now Francis Sancher is dead. But he alone has come to an end. The rest of us are alive and continue to live as we’ve always done. Without getting along together. Without liking ourselves. Without sharing anything. The night is waging war and grappling with the shutters. Soon, however, it will surrender to the day and every rooster will crow its defeat. The banana trees, the cabins and the slopes of the mountain will gradually float to the surface of the shadows and prepare to confront the dazzling light of day.

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

I hate the sea, noisy and purple, that tangles your hair. I don’t particularly like the rivers, slow-flowing and murky. I only like the gullies, alive, even violent. I bathe there. I sleep on their banks inhabited by batrachians. I twist my ankles on their slippery rocks. This is my realm and mine alone. Ordinary people are afeared, believing the placce to be the lair of spirits.

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

Nobody ever understands, Madame Ramsaran. Everyone is afraid of understanding. Take me, for instance. As soon as I tried to understand, to ask for an explanation for all those corpses, all that blood, they called me every name under the sun. As soon as I refused to go along with the slogans, they kept a serious eye on me. Nothing is more dangerous than a man who tries to understand.

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

The dead man’s house stood just outside the village, hemmed in by the forest that had begrudgingly left an opening of several miles and was anxious in its greed to win back the lost ground. The house was made of corrugated iron and wooden planks, even though throughout the island even the poorest were striving to build with concrete under the new tax incentive laws. It was obvious that the man had not cared what other people might think. In his eyes a house was a place where you lay down to sleep.

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

Solitude is my companion. She has cradled and nourished me. She has never left me up to this very day. People talk and talk but they don’t know what it’s like to emerge burning hot from the stone-cold womb of your mother, to say farewell to her from the very first moment you enter this world.

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

One can’t lie to one’s own flesh and blood! One can’t change sides! Swap one role for another. Break the chain of misery. I’ve tried and you see, nothing’s changed. After all, it’s only justice. If the sun rose on the other side of the world, lighting first the West then the East, how would the world work? Perhaps it would be like in the fairy tale where the flowers grow roots up, where man’s body grows warm only to grow cold and where speech is given to the wisest, in other words the animals?

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

Yes, I can hear the laughter of the wind that the night cannot keep under lock and key as it scours the countryside. Yes, I can hear the cavalcade of mangoes in a hurry to sink their stones into the belly of the earth so that they in turn can become eternal I hear the sea there in the distance endlessly quarreling with the rocks.

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove

I wish that little volcano you keep your eye on every morning, that scares you so much, I wish it would recover its former strength and explode. EXPLODE. A sun, brighter than the sun itself, would flash out of its crater mouth. Sulfur ash would be spewed out as well and we would all die. All buried without having the time to catch our breath. To die alone, one time and one time only, that’s what’s so terrible!

~ Maryse Condé, Crossing the Mangrove