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Review: Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal – by Aimé Césaire

cahier d'un retour au pays natal

Aimé Césaire is the father of Martinican literature. In his Cahier, he explores his roots in his native Martinique and looks with an often angry voice at the repression of his fellow islanders. The Cahier is a poem directed at enlightening the views of his fellow countrymen and giving them a point at which to resist their colonial masters, to escape the bonds of Negrédom, the chains of slavery that bound them in the triangular slave trade culture and left them in the sugar cane fields of Martinique. A founding father of the black movement in literature, Négritude, Césaire explores the roots of slavery and his négritude is a self-revealing look at how he is perceived by the world, due to his skin colour. The poetic text is often violent and revealing and he uses a variety of different methods to shock and disturb the reader. One is always looking for an identity of Martinique and the author succeeds in describing the island’s features, its fauna and flora, its colonial past, its poverty and hunger and suffering of the population. As we move through the book, the racial voice progresses until we hear a potent cry of anger about this inequality, the way in which his race restricts his world view and aspirations. I found the book, convenient in its parallel text, usefully translated, and a positive journey into the Caribbean. In the twenty-first century we still have not unshackled racism from our society and slavery is very much alive, if not as a political reality, but as an enchaining colonial restriction upon the black inhabitants of Martinique and its Caribbean cousins. It must be stressed how important a work this must be to natives of Martinique and the foundation point it is for black literature. I studied this book as part of my ‘Imaging The Islands’ course at Cardiff University’s School of Modern Languages.

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