{Review} Cahier d’un retour au pays natal – Aimé Césaire

29 Mar
Hommage à Aimé Césaire sur le Skatepark de Royan

Hommage à Aimé Césaire sur le Skatepark de Royan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Feel free to laugh at my ignorance, but I’d never heard of Aimé Césaire before last month and now his name is popping up everywhere! There was even a documentary about him on the television last week. Has anyone else ever had this happen to them? Or am I just being posthumously stalked by his work?

Blurb (from Goodreads )
Aimé Césaire’s masterpiece, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, is a work of immense cultural significance and beauty. The long poem was the beginning of Césaire’s quest for negritude, and it became an anthem of Blacks around the world. With its emphasis on unusual juxtapositions of object and metaphor, manipulation of language into puns and neologisms, and rhythm, Césaire considered his style a “beneficial madness” that could “break into the forbidden” and reach the powerful and overlooked aspects of black culture.
Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith achieve a laudable adaptation of Césaire’s work to English by clarifying double meanings, stretching syntax, and finding equivalent English puns, all while remaining remarkably true to the French text. Their treatment of the poetry is marked with imagination, vigour, and accuracy that will clarify difficulties for those already familiar with French, and make the work accessible to those who are not. Andre Breton’s introduction, A Great Black Poet, situates the text and provides a moving tribute to Césaire

This poem is one of the most difficult French texts that I’ve read in the last 3 months. Césaire’s goal was to mould the French language into the form that he wanted. His aim was to make his readers experience a sense of disorientation when they read it and to feel like foreigners in their native tongue. (When he moved to Paris for his studies in the early 1930’s, he experienced racism and wanted to stand up to the people who thought that he was stupid because he had a different skin colour from them). He used obscure language and made new expressions to great effect, totally blowing my mind and wishing that my level of French were high enough to understand every nuance. 

If you’ve ever been interested in the Harlem Renaissance, enjoyed Poeta en Nueva York or are interested in black culture, get your hands on a translation and read it.

Wild Night In’s Verdict? Wavering towards win.

Read for the Read French Books challenge


Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Books, Read French Books!


Tags: , , , , ,

6 responses to “{Review} Cahier d’un retour au pays natal – Aimé Césaire

  1. Lyra Sullyvan

    April 2, 2012 at 08:36

    Wow, reading Aimé Césaire in French! Nice job! 😀

    • wildnightin

      April 2, 2012 at 18:24

      Haha, thanks. I deserve many cakes for that. 😀

  2. Normand Charest

    April 19, 2012 at 20:44

    J’ai vu aussi un documentaire sur ce “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” et je l’ai acheté par la suite, à Montréal où il a été publié en 1990 (et avant aux éditions présence Africaine). C’est très fort, comme beaucoup de poésie noire, comme beaucoup d’auteurs noirs qui jouent très librement avec la langue française.

    Mais la poésie est souvent difficile à lire lorsqu’il s’agit d’une langue seconde : je lis facilement la prose anglaise, par exemple, mais il m’arrive de bloquer sur certains poèmes anglais…

    So, “many cakes for that”, with a lot of icing…

  3. abou ka

    December 5, 2013 at 14:09

    Trés trés intéressant ce poéme de Césaire,car elle remettait en question la raison de l’homme.


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