Solibo Magnificent

Patrick Chamoiseau

Published by Granta Books
ISBN 10: 1862073139 / ISBN 13: 9781862073135
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Synopsis: New York Times notable book of the year
 
In Fort-de-France, Martinique, a colorful group of musicians, street vendors, and hopeless disciples, including the author, gather under a tamarind tree to listen to legendary bard Solibo Magnificent spin tales. Suddenly, in the middle of a raucously entertaining story, Solibo drops dead. So entranced and drunken are his friends, they initially fail to realize that their hero has spoken his last word. One hysterical listener runs to find the doctor and inadvertently returns with the overly eager, sinister chief sergeant, who holds Solibo's friends under suspicion for murder. At turns a madcap murder mystery, a political satire, and a lament on the death of a treasured tradition, Solibo Magnificent is wildly imaginative and exuberantly lyrical.
 
Praise for Solibo Magnificent
 
“Both a meaty tale and a cry on behalf of a drowning culture . . . by a poet and a novelist with a raffishly human and lyrical touch.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“A world class author . . . whose voice and imagination are like nothing you've read before.”—The Washington Post Book World

Review: When Patrick Chamoiseau, Martinican author of the brilliant, magical novel Texaco, turns his hand to writing a police procedural, you can be sure that the "usual suspects" won't be usual at all. In Solibo Magnificent the title character, a master storyteller, dies on the first page, having uttered the mysterious phrase patat'-si ("this potato"). Though it is evident to his Creole audience that Solibo's throat was "snickt by the Word," to the Fort-de-France police department it's a clear case of murder. Before you can say patat'-si, all the witnesses are in custody, where they are brutally mistreated in an attempt to wrest confessions from them.

The first thing any reader notices about a Chamoiseau novel is the language (beautifully translated from the French by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov), which tends to tumble in cataracts of vivid imagery, almost as if it were being spoken instead of written. And given that this novel is really about the slow death of an oral tradition at the hands of a culture of literacy, the hurly-burly style is singularly appropriate. Though Solibo Magnificent can certainly be enjoyed simply as a tragicomic tale of mysterious death and police bungling, readers with even a superficial knowledge of Martinique's history as a French colony (and now departement) will find plenty of philosophical gold in the deeper veins of meaning that lie beneath the surface of the novel. There is, for example, the conflict between the deeply rooted Creole culture--an orally transmitted tradition of stories, demons, magic, and community--and the imposed colonial system of logic, scientific proof, the written word, and French as the dominant language. In such a world, Solibo the storyteller cannot live, and Chamoiseau--himself a character in the novel--is fully aware of the irony of committing his tale to the page. As he says at the end of the novel,

"I understood that to write down the word was nothing but betrayal, you lost the intonations, the parody, the storyteller's gestures.... I decided to squeeze out a reduced, organized, written version, a kind of ersatz of what the Master had been that night: it was clear now that his words, his true words, all of his words, were lost for all of us--and forever."

Solibo's throat might be "snickt by the word," his "true words" lost forever, but fortunately Patrick Chamoiseau, the "word-scratcher," is still here to remind us of just how much we've lost.

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Solibo Magnificent
Publisher: Granta Books
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: GOOD

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