Maryse Condé’s works deal with themes considered central by many contemporary authors and critics. She writes in the aftermath of decolonization, in and of a realm increasingly globalized and interconnected. In the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, France had established a worldwide empire, exporting its culture and values into the Americas, Asia, the Pacific, and especially Africa, vast areas of which came under French control. French colonialism led to the building of hospitals and roads, and to the development of industry and trade. French colonialism also had a manifest “civilizing mission” (mission civilisatrice), not crude land-grabs but “beneficent” incursions into less developed or fortunate regions. This mission involved the export of the fruits of a high French culture; exposure to this new culture, it was believed, would benefit all, regardless of geographical or ethnic origin. France’s relationship with its colonies was often strained and sometimes bloody, but the mother country, too, imbued many of its colonized subjects with an occasionally ambiguous respect for and admiration of the art, customs, and political system of the French.
This cultural and imperialist tide, having flowed, would eventually ebb. Exhausted by the bloodletting of two world wars, France had to withdraw from nearly all of its colonial possessions, sometimes, as with Indochina (in Southeast Asia) and Algeria, in circumstances that...
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