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Macadam Dreams
by Gisele Pineau

Reviewed by Michael Koerpel

Set in Savane, Guadeloupe, Gisele Pineau's novel, Macadam Dreams, is a story of Eliette's self-discovery as she is forced to come to terms with the violent memories of her past. Through the painful memories that Eliette attempts to push away, the book reveals the violent stories of the characters that make up Eiliette's town of Savane. Wrecked by a cyclone in 1928, Neither Eliette nor Savane have been able to escape the poverty and violence the cyclone has left them with. Now, sixty years later, with Hurricane Hugo approaching, Eliette is forced to deal with the painful past in order to free herself from those memories that were initiated by the first cyclone.

The novel begins with Eliette describing the destruction of the landscape that Hurricane Hugo has left, but travels back through time as Pineau paints a landscape of Savane through the memories of Eliette. The first aspect we see of Savane is the poverty stricken Rastafarian boys Eliette encounters sleeping on steps of her church. These boys dedicated their lives to the brotherhood of Rastafari but have gone astray and Eliette describes them as, “poor souls, they had no idea how to change direction or even think about tomorrow with a clear mind” (p.6). Next, Eliette encounters the eyes of her neighbor, Rosan, sitting in the back of a police car. This memory introduces us to the life of Rosan, his wife Rosette, and their children, Angela, Rita, and Robert. We find that Rosan and Rosette's life is not as easy as Eliette imagines, when, near the end of the novel, she finds that Rosan was in the police car because he had been raping his daughter, Angela, for years.

Eliette's recollection floats along to her afternoon lunch, where more memories come to her. This memory is of the first killing in Savane, which portrays the brutality that exists in Savane. The killing is of a jealous man named Regis, who, assuming his lover, Hortense, was cheating on him, “hacked poor Hortense in six and some pieces…And then he arranged all the pieces in batches on the tamped earth in his kitchen” (p.23). This memory drifts into a memory of the second killing in Savane. Another murder of jealousy plotted out between two lovers, Christopher and Esabelle. As Christopher could not stand to be second in line he convinces Esabelle to help him carry out his plan and they hang Esabelle's husband, Marius from a tree, making it look like Marius committed suicide. Soon after this the memory of a neglected child, Glawdys comes to Eliette. Glawdys was a child that was abandoned and left at the foot of Eliette's door, however another woman, Eloise snatched the child before Eliette. Eloise decides to neglect this child by tying it to a rope outside of her house and letting the child grow up like an animal. The result of this neglect is that once Glawdys has a child of her own she heaves it from a bridge to rid the baby of the evil that Glawdys thinks awaits the child, but also to Glawdys does this to punish the town of Savane for never freeing her from her cruel upbringing of being tied up to a rope.

All these memories of Savane serve as a background of Savane, as well as the reasons Eliette attempts to push down the violent memories. As the rest of the novel unfolds, the story of Rosan and Rosette becomes more specific, and we find out why it is that Rosan was sitting in the police car. He had raped his daughter, Angela, and had been doing so for many years. This throws Rosette into a fit and she beats Angela and kicks her out of her house. It is at this point that Eliette decides to step away from her memories and try to help Angela. Once she reaches out to Angela, there is an interesting shift in Eliette's character as she begins to come to terms with the violent memories of her past. The more Eliette reaches out to Angela, the more she begins to understand herself. This, along with the threat of Hurricane Hugo, makes for an interesting ending of self-discovery.

Pineau, who was residing in Guadeloupe when Hurricane Hugo swept through the Caribbean, described the landscape after the hurricane as having been raped by Hugo. That description comes into play in the novel as a theme throughout the novel is the way human violence, in specific the incestuous rape of Eliette, parallels the violence of humans. In the beginning of the novel, Eliette describes the destruction of the landscape from Hurricane Hugo as she says, “Nothing worthwhile was left. Nothing but garbage… Cyclone had smashed and trampled everything” (p.1). This physical imagery of the landscape parallels the destruction that occurred to Eliette's physical landscape after her father raped her in 1928. Using the cyclone to symbolize Eliette's father in the following quote, Pineau writes, “cyclone curled up inside of her like a snake that strangled all the babies that she could have carried, all the infants she would have liked to let suck on her breast. A cyclone that had crushed the love in her. A long beast like an insidious tapeworm that had devoured her insides and brain” (p.201).

With Pineau's vivid description we see how destructive incestuous rape can be. This quote also brings to light another interesting way Eliette's character is paralleled with the text. Just as the beast has eaten away at Eliette's brain, causing her memories to surface in fragments, Pineau writes the novel in a fragmented style, allowing parts of the story to surface and build in fragments until the end when the reader finally understands the fragments as a whole. Similarly, the character of Eliette allows violent memories to surface in a fragmented way until the end when she is able to come to terms with and understand her past and understand herself as a whole.

Another theme Pineau addresses in the novel is the malediction of the black race. This curse is first mentioned after Eliette recalls the murder of Hortense, who was savaged by the cutlass of Regis. Pineau writes that Eliette would no longer, “run around with the others and listen to those that swore it spelled the malediction of black people” (p.23). The curse is mentioned as Eliette remembers Rosette's reaction after Glawdys throw her baby over the bridge, “she wept over the accursement of the black people, the calamity of misery, and the dead dreams on this earth” (p.34). Later on in the novel, as Rosette thinks of her husband, Rosan, raping their daughter Angela, Pineau writes that, “her eyes drifter far away, far beyond Savane, far from the black people and their accursement” (p. 175). However, near the end of the novel, Pineau concludes on the malediction of the black race when she writes of Eliette that, “Her people weren't cursed, just had thick black skin that could endure all kinds of weather, work in the sun, walk into the fields through razor sharp grasses, embrace the thorns of sorrow without even shedding a tear. And that was a blessing” (p.200). In this way, the blessing of being able to endure all of life's difficulties, Pineau allows a light of hope and optimism to shine through the novel

As previously stated, the imagery Pineau uses throughout the text parallels the violence of nature and the violence of humans. In one specific passage near the end of the novel, Pineau blends the violence of nature and the violence of humans in a vivid description of a cyclone. The quote reads, “Outside the town was splitting at every seam under the onslaughts of wind and flailing rain driven by the drunken cyclone…And then there was a tremendous ripping sound, flesh tearing and bones breaking, as if the earth were splitting open to let the blade of Cyclone in – humph! humph! – all the way up the hilt. Off in the distance, somewhere out in the night, a wounded woman called out” (p.211). On one level the quote is describing the violent cyclone outside of Eliette's house, but on another level Pineau describes the Cyclone as raping the landscape, giving emphasis to the parallel of the violence in nature and humans, in the way that human rape is as powerful and destructive as the cyclone.

Gisele Pineau has written children's literature, essays, as well as novels. Her first novel, The Drifting of the Spirits, won the Carbet de la Caraibe prize. She has also received awards for this novel, Macadam Dreams, and Exile according to Julia. Pineau writes in French, and the three novels listed are the only ones that have been translated to English. Some of her other works include, L'ame pretee aux oiseaux, Chair Piment, as well as a book she co-wrote with Marie Abraham called, Femmes des Antilles: traces et voix: 150 ans après l'aboliton de l'esclavage. Pineau now resides in Guadeloupe where she writes and is also a Psychiatric nurse.

Macadam Dreams, is an interesting novel because of the way Pineau parallels the violence of nature with the violence of humans. Also, with regards to the recent Tsunami that wreaked havoc on Indonesia, the novel serves to make us aware of the power of natural disasters. Although the novel is riddled with violent memories, the glimmers of hope that Pineau leaves the reader with, makes the book an enjoyable read.