Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Maryse Condé’s fourth novel, I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, was the winner of France’s prestigious Grand Prix Literaire del la Femme in 1986. It was the first French-language novel to link the histories of Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. The novel also parallels Condé’s own literary quest to discover what it means to be a Caribbean woman. A native of Guadeloupe, she moved to the Ivory Coast as a young woman. Her first three novels, Hérémakhonon (1976; English translation, 1982), Une Saison à Rihata (1981; A Season in Rihata, 1988), and Ségou (1984; Segu, 1987), are set in Africa. Condé also lived in Paris, where she taught West Indian literature at the Sorbonne. When Condé moved back to Guadeloupe, she began to come to terms with her own Caribbean identity, which finds its expression in the character of Tituba. Her later novels, La Vie scélérate (1987; Tree of Life, 1992), Traversée de la mangrove (1990; Crossing the Mangrove, 1995), and Les Derniers Rois mages (1992; the last magi), are all set in Guadeloupe.

A staunch supporter of independence from France for Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana, Condé is politically active. She has been a member of Union pour la liberation de la Guadeloupe, a coalition working for Guadeloupe’s independence, and was a candidate for the regional council in 1992. Her political involvement parallels her literary commitment to represent a Caribbean identity to the international community.