16 April 2015

Simone Schwarz-Bart: Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle | The Bridge of Beyond (1972)

Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle – translated into English as The Bridge of Beyond – is Simone Schwarz-Bart's first novel on her own: previously, she had co-written Un plat de porc aux bananes vertes (lit. 'A Dish of Pork with Green Bananas') with her husband André Schwarz-Bart, which was published in 1967.

Pluie et vent is set in Schwarz-Bart's native Guadeloupe, and is suffused with Antillean words, with the supernatural, with the destructive legacy that slavery has brought through the generations. But – in spite of this – it is also a homage to the black woman, to allude to the seven-volume Hommage à la femme noire, another jointly written book by the Schwart-Barts.

The novel is in two parts, the first being only thirty pages long and detailing three previous generations: her great-grandmother Minerve, a freed slave; her grandmother Toussine (dubbed Reine Sans Nom (Queen without a Name)); and her mother Victoire.

The second part of the book is much longer and relates the ups and downs in the life of Télumée Lougandor, who is sent as a child to live with her grandmother. The book is told in the first person and inspired by the life of Guadeloupean Stéphanie Priccin.

Télumée goes to school with Élie and the pair accept their mutual love and know that they will live together one day. As a background to this knowledge, while Élie becomes a pit sawyer and dutifully works to build a house for them to live in, Télumée goes to work as a cook and general domestic for the Desargne family, sleeping in an outbuilding near a pig sty. Her love for Élie and general love of life mean that she easily deflects the direct racist comments from the wife, although the husband's attempts to rape her – thinking that he can buy her by thrusting silk upon her – result in her threatening (although not quite so directly) to cut off his sex organs.

When Télumée goes to live with Élie in the house next to Reine Sans Nom, they are very happy. The passing of time is often difficult to register in this novel, so it's hard to know how long they have lived together before Élie – unemployed and alcoholic – takes to badly battering Télumée until he forces her to retreat to her grandmother.

And her grandmother has noted the love that Ambroise (always in the background) has for her, although it is not until after Reine Sans Nom's death – when she is forced into working with the dreaded sugar cane to survive – that she forms a really loving bond with him, one of the men who are a positive force for good. Until he's burned to death at the factory.

Through everything, the eye of this poor Guadeloupean community is on her, and they name her 'Télumée Miracle' when they see her take Ménard – who has 'lived like a dog' – and make him 'die like a man'. In the end, Télumée sells roasted peanuts by the roadside outside her house: she is proud through her humbleness, resilient, resourceful...joyful: '[...] je mourrai là, comme je suis, debout, dans mon petit jardin, quelle joie !...' ('I shall die here, as I am, standing, in my little garden, what joy!').

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