Special Issue:
Women & Voodoo
August '08


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Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat?
ISBN: 9780734382608
By: Maryse Condé
Reviewer: Jennifer A. Backman

August 2008

Maryse Condé’stwelfth novel, Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat?, is the imaginative and lyrical story of Celanire, a mysterious Caribbean woman who survives abandonment as an infant and lives to seek to revenge. Condé’s winding narrative slowly reveals that the now seductive and dangerous Celanire had been cast into a trash heap with her throat slit – a failed human sacrifice.  Thus the rich scarves and elaborate choker necklaces she wears throughout the novel serve to hide the gory evidence of the attack.  The novel brims with adventure and intrigue as Celanire searches for her assailant and, one by one, people surrounding her die off under strange circumstances (Monsieur Desrussie, the man she was intended to assist at the Home for Half Castes, dies upon her arrival in Adjame-Santey and she is hired as his successor). As the bodies pile up, the townspeople begin to suspect Celanire of being a “horse,” or someone under the influence of a possessing spirit. 

But Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat?is not a simply a revenge story; it is also a narrative of desire and conquest, both personal and political.  As death surrounds Celanire, so do romantic liaisons. She bewitches members of both sexes, enchanting local African nobility along with French officials.  Is Celanire’s charm rooted in her physical beauty and frank demeanor or does her magnetism have a more sinister source?  While detailing Celanire’s romantic encounters, Condé also interweaves cultural and historical detail surrounding the French colonization of Africa.  The turn-of-the-century colonial setting provides a rich backdrop for the novel, but Condé’s political commentary often comes off as clunky rather than as meaningfully integrated into the story.  Nineteenth century, rural characters identifying themselves as “subaltern,” seems out of tone with the rest of homey, comfortable narration. 

Celanire, herself, is ultimately a shadowy and unknowable character; we hover close to her throughout the novel, but are not allowed into her consciousness and cannot be sure how far our readerly sympathy should extend. Instead of allowing us insight into Celanire’s motives and private desires, we are presented the narrative from outside her point of view in an almost Faulknerian collective strategy.  Readers who appreciate clever constructs will be pleased by this kind of storytelling; however, those readers who prefer to come to know and identify with the protagonist may be left dissatisfied.  Overall, the interesting plotline and captivating characters are compelling enough to move the reader beyond such issues and help to place the novel solidly within the best of Condé’s work.  Translated from the French by Richard Philcox.


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