The woman who has laughed is the same one as she who will cry, and that is why one knows already, from the way a woman is happy, how she will behave in the face of adversity. I’d liked that saying of Queen Without a Name, once, but now… it frightened me, and above all it saddened me, for I saw clearly that I didn’t know how to suffer.
At a time when the “music of the whip” was supposed to be no longer in their ears, the great-granddaughter of a freed slave tells her story; and through her story, the history of their people, the history of their women.
Beyond the beautiful cover designs and the excellent translations of NYRB publications, I am most grateful for how they usually bring together two forces of literature in a single book — Jamaica Kincaid, projected to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2021 writes the introduction to this edition of Simone Schwartz-Bart’s potent novel.
The only downside is that if someone like Kincaid has already extracted the essence and bottled it for us in the introduction, my words would immediately pale in comparison and attempting a review would be futile; and all I can do is agree with her when she writes of this book as, “An unforgettable hymn to the resilience and power of women.” Truly a masterpiece, not only of Caribbean literature but also of feminist literature.
Although Kincaid did leave something out for me to realize on my own — that there are many forms of slavery; sometimes it is imposed on people, sometimes it is inherited, and sometimes we impose it upon ourselves.
There is so much sorrow in this book and I thought of putting it down many times because there was already so much sorrow in the world as I read it.
But a novel touching on slavery can only ask questions about freedom, the same way a novel about sorrow can only be a contemplation on happiness. And so I read…