From a Prix Goncourt writer hailed by Milan Kundera as the "heir of Joyce and Kafka," a novel, first published in France in 1997, about an escaped slave in Martinique and the killer hound that pursues him.
Slave Old Man conjures a metamorphosis of similar pathos and wonder ... Mr. Chamoiseau writes in a wild medley of French and Creole, sliding from dialect to classical expression like a freeform jazz musician. Linda Coverdale’s translation, the first in English, is gloriously unshackled, reveling in what she calls Mr. Chamoiseau’s 'fond disrespect for words' to forge innovative musical phrasings. The forest of world literature can be a bewildering place to navigate and one good trick is to find a translator you trust and follow her wherever she leads. Those who do so with Ms. Coverdale, one of the best French translators working, will discover such marvelous writers as Jean Echenoz, Emmanuel Carrère and Annie Ernaux. And they will come to this beautiful book, by a writer who’s as original as any I’ve read all year.
Imagine Walt Whitman adapting Apocalypto and you might approximate the awe and adrenaline of Chamoiseau’s action pastoral ... His exhilarating flight evokes the shock of freedom with tactile immediacy ... If the runaways of American literature seek autonomy and self-ownership, Chamoiseau’s maroon enters a 'Great Woods' where distinctions between past and present, human and animal, Old World and New dissolve ... Slave Old Man transpires in a solitude that can be limiting. Chamoiseau’s descriptions of the forest—beautifully translated from French and Creole by Linda Coverdale—are exhilarating, but the old man never quite comes into focus against the background of foliage and verbiage. A character without relationships or concrete memories, he risks becoming a cipher ... If the old man proves himself to anyone, it is his canine pursuer ... The sparks from their contest kindle this bonfire of a book, a maroon story written with 'a folktale parlance and a runner’s wind.'
Slave Old Man is Chamoiseau’s strongest work since his masterpiece, Texaco ... Slave Old Man is a cloudburst of a novel, swift and compressed — but every page pulses, blood-warm ... The prose is so electrifyingly synesthetic that, on more than one occasion, I found myself stopping to rub my eyes in disbelief.