“We are all researchers”

“We are all researchers”

The Gospel of the New World will be, she says, her last book. At 84 years old, the great Guadeloupean writer, Maryse Condé, finally dares to draw inspiration from the Bible which has fascinated her for a long time. For the literary season, she returns to her itinerary marked by the quest for identity, the power of doubt and the imperative to write.

Would you have imagined a few years ago titling one of your novels The Gospel of the New World?

No, to do this I had to release within myself a very old desire that I did not dare to satisfy. This new book, which will be the last, is the strongest, the most daring that I have written. Readings opened the way for me, that of the work of the Portuguese José Saramango and those of A childhood of Jesus and of The education of Jesus , of the South African John Maxwell Coetzee, naturalized Australian. These last books seemed ambitious to me, even arrogant. Does a human being have the right to pretend, even for the duration of a novel, to be God himself? I do not believe that. Thanks to them, however, I felt authorized to take charge of these ancient texts in my turn.

What relationship do you have with the Gospels?

These are very beautiful texts that make you think. The history, the relationships between people are of tremendous richness. The Bible in general fascinates me. The Flood, Abraham ready to sacrifice his son… It's crazy powerful. When I lived in Africa, I thought for a while about converting to Islam. But I find the Koran, which I have also read, less beautiful, less complex than the Bible. And then, I like the polyphony of the gospels. The contradictions between them don't bother me. This probably means that the truth is difficult to reach. It is possible, moreover, that there are several truths. I hate people who have ready-made answers, who believe, know, understand, see more clearly than others. I like the idea that we are all researchers. We sometimes get lost, but we search.

What is Pascal, the main character of your novel, looking for?

When he was born, he was placed in a couple's garden without anyone knowing his origin. Is he the child of a god? The rumor is growing. As he grew up, he became a charismatic man in search of his father. His friends believe he has supernatural powers, such as the ability to perform miracles. But Pascal is still plagued by doubt. He asks himself the eternal questions: “Where do I come from? What am I doing on this earth? Where am I going ? » One day, his questions are answered, immediately denied the next day. Meaning fluctuates, like life. Pascal would like to believe that he is invested with a mission, that of making the world more beautiful, more tolerant, more harmonious, but it is beyond his strength, he cannot succeed.

Your mother was a devout Catholic, your father a professed atheist. What gives rise to doubt?

My mother got up every morning at 5 a.m. to go to mass and I accompanied her. I adored him. She died when I was 20, and I never quite got over it. My father bragged about being an atheist and teased her. With him, my relationship was more complicated. I was one of his six daughters, and a girl wasn't a big deal. So I heard their two contradictory voices, one convinced, the other mocking. And these two voices are echoed in my book.

Born in Guadeloupe, you studied in Paris before living ten years in Africa, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali… What has life on this continent taught you?

I was not welcomed there as a sister, but as a stranger. My son was beaten at school, called toubab (word used in West Africa to designate a white person or person living like a European, Editor's note) . Africans and West Indians are not linked by the same history: on one side there is domestic slavery, on the other there is slave trade slavery. These are two different realities. From country to country, I persisted in hoping to find a place where I would be well received. When, after ten years, I realized that I would never be integrated, I left. However, it remains a beautiful memory. I learned a lot about myself. Without Africa, I would never have been proud of my Guadeloupean origins.

Don’t Africans and West Indians share a common origin?

Under the pen of Aimé Césaire1, all black people have a common origin. They would be “dominated” under the rule of white “dominators” who would have “colonized them from the inside”… However, I realized that the identity of the race is an illusion. I learned to question this very notion of race. Certainly, Césaire's prose is beautiful, moving, almost magical. However, negritude is only a dream, perhaps a very beautiful one, but one that has never worked. This observation and the blows of fate that have punctuated my existence could have pushed me to despair. But I continue to believe that man is capable of the best, and that tomorrow will be more beautiful than today.

Debates on slavery have recently taken a very controversial turn, particularly in France and the United States. What do you think ?

We must take the past of a nation as a whole, with its shadows and its lights. This is why I am opposed to the removal of statues. Eradicating the dark moments of our history means disfiguring reality and refusing to learn lessons from them.

The demands made by women today are also debated…

To be honest, I'm not a feminist and I'm afraid that the #MeToo movement is making the world a bit totalitarian. For me, women have a profoundly different structure from men. She gives life, breastfeeds, nourishes, trains a child, possibly writes novels. But the best thing is to transmit. I owe my greatest happiness to my husband and my children.

Your work nevertheless abounds with great female figures and questions the fate reserved for women. Was writing your path to emancipation?

For a long time, I thought I was incapable of writing a novel. For a little black girl, wanting to write books was a very strange idea where I grew up. My parents and some of their friends didn't take me seriously. This explains why I started so late, in my late forties. One fine day, I started to write. A force that surpassed me and invaded me pushed me there, without me knowing how to name it or say where it came from. I was forced to obey him for my first four or five novels. Afterwards, writing became my life. I understood that writing and living means mixing the true and the imaginary, what Louis Aragon calls “True lying2”. Through my work as a writer, I have become a researcher, trying to find out who I am and what the meaning of life is.

Passionate about the truth?

This word is dangerous for a writer. Above all, never tell the truth as it is. I try to dress her in a way that makes her bearable, appetizing. It's about adapting it, seasoning it, a bit like a cook does with his ingredients. If you don't want to suffer or cause suffering, you have to know how to disguise it. Otherwise, it can paralyze. For me, beauty remains the only answer, even fluctuating, to the questions of existence. She is my only quest.

1) Writer and politician, Aimé Césaire (1913-2008) is the founder of the Négritude literary movement. 2) Short story which gives its title to the collection published by the poet and writer Louis Aragon in 1980.

Maryse Condé's husband, Richard Philcox, welcomes us to their Provençal farmhouse a stone's throw from Gordes, a popular village in Vaucluse. This Briton, who is also his translator, watches over his comfort and health. Because Maryse Condé suffered a stroke a few years ago. In a wheelchair, almost blind, she offers us proof of her alertness despite her speech difficulties. Time for an interview in the form of a life lesson, to the sound of cicadas singing.

His bio

February 11, 1934. Born in Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe).

1953 . Arrived in Paris.

1960 . Departure for Africa.

1984 . Publication of his first novel, Segou , in Ed. Robert Laffont.

1986 . Publication of Me, Tituba witch …, Ed. Mercury of France.

2004 . Appointed president of the National Committee for the Memory and History of Slavery.

2018 . Alternative Nobel Prize winner.

>>> Also read on lepelerin.com : Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt: “Man has destroyed paradise by seeking to domesticate it”

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