A WOMAN NAMED SOLITUDE

By Andre Schwarz-Bart
New York: Anthem, 1973
Translated from the French by Ralph Manheim, published in 1972
179 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
April 2010

This is the story of two women, one born free in Central Africa and enslaved in the mid-1700s. The other, her daughter, born as a slave in Guadeloupe in 1772. She was eventually put to death the day after she gave birth to her child.

Andre Schwarz-Bartís tale of these two women, of the nature of slavery, the ultimately unsuccessful early struggle for the freedom from slavery in Guadeloupe, is a gripping tale. I have owned the book for several years, picked it up a dozen or more times when I was looking for something to read, and each time, until yesterday, I put it back down. Yesterday, a glorious spring day, I finally picked it up, moved out to my front porch and began to read. I was so incredibly gripped I didnít get up until I finished the book 6 or 7 hours later. It is a phenomenal read.

The early part of the novel is set in Africa and the amazement of the remote tribes when they began to be taken into slavery. They just didnít know what to make of it. One character says:

In the past we feared only our enemies. Today we fear our friends. Tomorrow we shall fling our spears at our mothers.

We follow that remote tribe and especially Bayangumay, a young girl who is taken into slavery, survives the crossing and ends up on a plantation in Guadeloupe. She gives birth to a lovely baby girl who eventually takes the name ďSolitude.Ē Bayangumay escapes in to wilds of Guadeloupe and joins the maroon slaves in their battle for freedom. Eventually Solitude follows her motherís example.

Schwarz-Bart crafts a magnificent version of this story, filling in the details of the movement toward liberation of the slaves in Guadeloupe, and its ultimate failure in the 1790s, and again in 1802. Unlike Haiti, which did win its independence in 1804, it took longer in Guadeloupe. It wasnít until 1848 that slavery was finally ended forever.

I donít wish to discuss any more details of the novel. The story is beautifully and grippingly told. I highly recommend the book.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu