1940, Native Son

“Down here in Dixie we keep Negroes firmly in their places and we make them know that if they so much as touch a white woman, good or bad, they cannot live.

“When Negroes become resentful over imagined wrongs, nothing brings them to their senses so quickly as when citizens take the law into their hands and make an example out of a trouble-making nigger.

Continue reading “1940, Native Son”


Redemption is a short novel by Chantal Chawaf. The author is more well-known in France than she is in the United States but her works are being translated so they can be experienced by English-speaking readers who have no French. I point this out because I am debating whether this is an author that demands to be read in the VO or one that has the impact of her novels maintained during the translation process. Here is a snippet from the work; it is both long and somewhat intense:

“Was he pursuing a ghost, a body? or rather another frenzied attempt to see the invisible? A woman’s invisible parts, her insides, her viscera, all that is visible only when she is dead, dissected, when the roundness of her breast, her belly, her hip, her buttock is cut to pieces, when her external contours are destroyed, the ones hiding the magnificent internal, uterine shapes to which a man penetrating her has access only through touch, never through vision, inside the naked woman as though it were forbidden to the eye, to any human eye, to any impious voyeurism to look at the caverns, the grottos, the great mucous rooms, site of the spasms of our conception that hungry, thirsty sexual desire ceaselessly licks, nibbles, rubs, pierces, blindly, to force its way, to climb back up the slope of life which, without help, conveys us toward death in our desperate curiosity.”

The story involves an impotent man who left his earlier lover brutally murdered, ripped apart and half-eaten in the wilds of Canada and returned to France where he is once again involved with a woman and is beginning to have destructive thoughts about her. The first line of the novel sort of sets the tone—”As night fell, Charles became a vampire.”

For those that are contemplating the novel in the original French, here is the first few lines:

“A la tombée de la nuit, Charles s’est transformé en vampire. Il a observé la pleine lune. Il se découpait sur les hauts murs comme un arbuste noir et il remuait ses ombres, celles de ses membres et de son tronc sur le sentier rocailleux qui serpentait vers l’enfer. Il a renoncé à embrasser Esther, à la serrer dans ses bras, il a renoncé à mêler sa mœlle chaude à la plante frémissante qui s’offrait à sa bouche. Il a crispé, refermé les mâchoires sur la bile, sur l’aigreur. Il est prêt à la recracher, à la vomir. Il choisit d’errer, solitaire, dans l’obscurité du cheminement abrupt d’où il n’aperçoit plus que de très loin les lumignons de la course effrénée vers les chambres de la vie qui contiennent encore les couples, l’espoir dont lui, l’homme profondément blessé, il n’esquissera plus jamais les gestes dans aucune illusion. Il l’a tuée.”

But the plot of this story is secondary to the brilliant way the author balances a sub-text centered around literary theories and linguistic concepts against the sensual mayhem of the novel. Luckily Redemption is very short and I recommend two or three readings before it starts to become clear. And no, it is not a vampire novel but it is very good.

You can find more on this author at Chantal Chawaf.


I have always cringed when Jessica Fletcher explains how she discovered the killer and the entire solution keyed on a visual clue that the viewer didn’t have a chance to see—maybe from a scene that was edited out to make room for an extra commercial selling lard products or artificial human odors.

When I was in college I learned something about Naturalism in literature. My over simplified recollection of the definition was that the Naturalist author took a character, gave him certain attributes, and placed that character in a controlled environment. Much like a laboratory experiment, the actions and responses of the character were predictable and inevitable. You can see that much of the new science developing at the end of the 19th century was important to this view of Naturalism.

I’ll have to look up a better definition of Naturalism, but I bring these two experiences of mine together to make a small comment about Émile Zola and his novel La Bête humane. On more than one occasion Zola’s “murder she wrote” tossed in a clue or an attribute at the last-minute presumably to plug any holes in the story. It’s one thing to describe a pistol on the mantel early in the novel and have the reader expecting its  use before the end of the story, but it’s another to have the murderer grab a pistol just as the narrator explains that gun was inadvertently dropped behind the potted palm earlier that day when the local officer was adjusting his Sam Browne.

For example:  Roubaud flips out and has a tantrum; then we learn that he is quick to anger. Shouldn’t Zola have set up that character trait and then when the situation arrived, it would be natural for Roubaud to respond as he did?