French literature has repeatedly been enriched by new talents and contributors from former colonies and overseas departments of France. A relative newcomer to this illustrious group of authors is François Dijoux, born and raised on the island of Réunion, but recently living near Aix-en-Provence. His first novel, L'Ame en dose (Marseille: Editions Autres Temps, 1994), soon won him literary awards. It was followed by Les Frangipaniers (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2003) and most recently by Le Marlé to make up the trilogy Dans le souffle de l'alizé.
Although counted as the last part of a trilogy, Le Marlé can be read as a single volume in its own right. It offers a fascinating mix of history and mystery, facts and fiction, comedy and tragedy. The word that makes up the title refers to a necklace or garland of flowers, but, as the text explains, if a child is born with the umbilical cord around the neck, this phenomenon "est un très mauvais présage chez les Tamouls ou les Malbars comme on dit ici. Ils appellent ça le marlé." (15/16) This bad omen must be overcome by "la cérémonie du tir marlé" (16) to avoid the "mauvais œil" (ibid). However, two young lovers by the name of Gérard Tranquille and Jennifer Denfert, both born under the condition of the marlé, were not subjected to the religious ceremony because their parents considered the procedure irrelevant and outdated. The doom of these children later in life seems to have been programmed by that decision.
The story of Gérard and Jennifer provides the narrative framework for the entire genealogy of their families as presented by Jennifer's mother, Margrit Denfer. The geographical and cultural background of the opus is La Réunion, formerly Ile Bourbon. It takes a connoisseur who actually has been there to describe the exuberant tropical flora in equally vivid metaphors, to present history and folklore with sovereign knowledge, and to show social commitment for the suppressed and underprivileged. François Dijoux unfolds these qualities page after page.
The historical facts of the novel are closely connected with the fate of contract workers or engagés from India who, after the abolition of slavery (1848), still had to struggle for a decent existence. The family chronicle begins about a generation after this date and reaches into the present. In a narrative trick, Dijoux even connects the early colonial history of the volcanic island with today by letting the patriarch Mounssamy Mayapa, a.k.a. Joseph Mayapa, find the treasure of the pirate Olivier Levasseur (ca. 1680 - 1730). The name of the pirate's ship, La Vierge du Cap, reappears in our time as La Nouvelle Vierge du Cap - a sailboat connected with the demise of the young couple.
If one had to identify the philosophical concept of the author, one could foremost refer to his religious tolerance. This attitude shows respect for other traditions that predate those of the colonial power and provide the immigrant working class with more social and personal stability. Whether superstition, bad luck, or an existential curse, the young couple whose upbringing did not respect old values perishes as if caught by the precipitation of events in an antique tragedy - the two lovers, who visit the island to prepare for their wedding, get lost at sea after they are told that they are brother and sister. Like a premonition, the early quotation from a chanson by Barbara points to the strange character of the human fate.
With his novels set on Réunion and surrounding islands, François Dijoux has positioned himself into a tradition of great French writing outside the Hexagon and has delivered a valuable contribution to the liveliness and diversity of contemporary French literature.
Ocean County College (NJ), emeritus Gert Niers
THE FRENCH REVIEW