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Déwé Gorodé: L’épave (The Wreck)

This somewhat strange novel is clearly written by a writer who is a poet at heart and a poet in tune with her culture and the political realities of her culture. Tom has returned to New Caledonia from service in the French army, where he saw action in Bosnia and Rwanda. He meets Léna, his cousin’s girlfriend, and the pair soon start a relationship. (Most unconvincingly, the cousin, when he finds out, wishes both of them well and has no bitterness about it.) Their love affair centres around an old wrecked ship called the La Fleur du Corail [The Coral Flower] but the affair is coloured by the strange dreams both of them have, often about ancestors in difficult situations. But their love affair is not carried out in isolation, as they come across others who act as warnings and helpers to them.

Old Tom is an old man who they meet on the beach, who seems to be a genial, wise old man but clearly has something to hide, something unpleasant. This may be connected with Lila. Tom meets Lila in the shop where he gets the provisions. Lila is a story-teller and rap singer (we get examples of her rap songs). She is also the victim of sexual abuse as a child. Sadly, tragedy will follow her. Éva the Healer and Léna’s mother, also called Léna, all show the role that women must play, often as healers and helpers and also, all too often, as victims. But we also get the stories of other characters. There is the sea captain who leaves his wife for a younger mistress, with the wife getting her revenge by telling everyone that the new mistress is his own daughter by one of his previous mistresses and really getting her revenge when the captain returns home to find the mistress and his son making love on the kitchen floor. There is the story of the boy who prefers to live with his womanising grandfather to his preaching parents. Sexual love can be liberating but can be harmful.

Gorodé is interested in the characters and in the New Caledonian culture. The myths, the landscape of the country and its politics are prime. We learn about the New Caledonians’ struggle for freedom but also about other political causes, from Bob Marley to the Palestine struggle for liberation. Will Tom and Léna find a new way of expression and a way forward for the people of New Caledonia? The answer is not clear but Gorodé’s tale is a fascinating approach to the issue.

Publishing history

First published 2005 by Madrépores
First publication in English by Little Island Press in 2011
Translated by Deborah Walker-Morrison and Raylene L. Ramsay