Maryse Conde Windward Heights

ISBN 13: 9781569472163

Windward Heights

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9781569472163: Windward Heights

Prizewinning writer Maryse Condé reimagines Emily Brontë's passionate novel as a tale of obsessive love between the "African" Razyé and Cathy, the mulatto daughter of the man who takes Razyé in and raises him, but whose treatment goads him into rebellious flight. Retaining the emotional power of the original, Condé shows the Caribbean society in the wake of emancipation.

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Review:

Set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Maryse Condé's Windward Heights is a retelling of the Emily Brontë classic Wuthering Heights. The title of the novel alone might tell you that something formulaic is afoot--and the book does for the most part mirror the wretched and doomed story of Heathcliff and Cathy. But Condé's plan is actually ingenious. She goes beyond Brontë, using shades of human color as a metaphor to illustrate subtle variations on evil, misery, and racism.

Heathcliff's counterpart in this story is Razyé, a cold, brutal, and relentless dark-skinned man of questionable origins. We meet him just before his return to the home of his youth--and to his Cathy, who has married a wealthy white creole: "He was dressed all in black in the French fashion, from his tightly-laced leather boots to his felt hat sewn with a large hem stitch. His skin too was black, that shiny black they call Ashanti, and his hair hung in curls like those of an Indian half-caste, the Bata-Zindien. Nobody could hold the gaze of his languishing eyes, where churned who knows what pain and solitude."

Razyé always destroys what he loves, and as we expect, Cathy soon dies. He avenges her death by punishing everyone near him--his wife, his many children, the entire island of Guadeloupe. Society itself is devoured by his aggression and hatred. This is Razyé's essence, and Condé uses him to make her point: the agony of not belonging, of hating oneself because of one's race, is toxic. Though the translation from the French could be more sophisticated, the skill with which Condé has adapted Brontë's masterpiece shines through. --Teri Kieffer

About the Author:

Maryse Condé is the author of I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem, Tree of Life, Crossing the Mangrove, and The Last of the African Kings, among others. She is the recipient of the prestigious French award, Le Grand Prix Littéraire de la Femme, and a Guggenheim Fellow. She is a professor of French Caribbean Literature at Columbia University. She and her husband Richard Philcox, who masterfully translated Windward Heights, divide their time between New York City and Guadeloupe.

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