“A man’s country may be cramped or vast according to the size of his heart. I’ve never found my country to small, though that isn’t to say my heart is great. And if I could choose it’s here in Guadeloupe that I’d be born again, suffer and die. Yet not long back my ancestors were slaves on this volcanic, hurricane-swept, mosquito-ridden, nasty-minded island. But I didn’t come into the world to weigh the world’s woe. I prefer to dream, on and on, standing in my garden, just like any other old woman of my age, till death comes and takes me as I dream, me and all my joy.”
Simone Schwartz-Bart’s novel “The Bridge of Beyond” is part of the metaphysical tradition of story-telling. It captures the oral tradition of spirits, superstitions, beliefs, proverbs, and lore of survival of a generational line of women on the Antillean island of Guadeloupe.
“Life at Fond-Zombi was lived with doors and windows open: night had eyes, and the wind long ears, and no one could ever have enough of other people. As soon as I arrived in the village I knew who was the aggressor and who was victim, who still held his soul high and who was on the road to ruin, who poached in waters belonging to his friend or brother, who was suffering, who was dying. But the more I learned the more it seemed that the main thing escaped me, slipped through my fingers like an eel.”
The writing is lyrical; a Creole Bible of suffering, love, morality, and redemption. Men, black men, are a burden to be borne. The black woman’s burden. It is a paradox that the black women that are the central characters of the novel have a need for the troubled company, seemingly a product of ingrained insecurity, rather than for love or sex. At best the black man, are the mules for physical labor in a division of responsibilities. The women are in search of a post-slavery model of a Negress, in a rural economic culture of white controlled sugar cane subsistence. The thorns of slavery everywhere abound in a fatalistic culture wanting no more than a little plot of land and some peace.The model of white prejudice has been caned into their souls, as the progeny of transplanted natives burn the fields of their small dreams.
This novel is disturbing because while at the conclusion the bridge to the rest of the world is beginning to be built, it is beyond the then present. The novel is an interesting account of this island culture and of still existing gender issues. At times the prose rises above theme.