White Spirit


White Spirit

Paule Constant
Translated by Betsy Wing

European Women Writers Series

182 pages


April 2006


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

After answering a classified ad placed by an import-export company looking for energetic young men willing to take on responsibilities for its African branches—no diploma required—Victor finds himself on The Will of God, a dilapidated boat heading into the heart of darkness as even Conrad couldn’t have imagined. With the piquant mixture of hilarity and painful disenchantment characterizing Paule Constant’s vision of the “colonial novel,” White Spirit follows three innocents—Victor; Lola, a mulatto prostitute; and Alexis, who does not know he’s a monkey—as they negotiate the perverse system of desires and hatreds on an African banana plantation.

Selling what no one wants or needs, Victor takes delivery of a barrel of mysterious powder promptly christened “white spirit” for its ability to bleach the black arms of the workers handling the shipment. To become whiter and worthier of love, Lola buys some—and then the rest vanishes. In this nightmarish Africa where colonized and colonizers have each other in a stranglehold, the "white spirit" unleashes an obsession that merges whiteness with a return to paradise—an obsession that can only end in catastrophe. Through it all, with her characteristic caustic language, fierce irony, and enormous tenderness for human frailty, Constant portrays the ridiculous without ridicule—and, miraculously, sparks a light of hope in the midst of the torment and suffering.

Author Bio

Paule Constant is the author of several novels, including Trading Secrets, winner of the Prix Goncourt, and The Governor’s Daughter, both published by the University of Nebraska Press. Betsy Wing has translated Constant’s previous novels published by the University of Nebraska Press, as well as Édouard Glissant’s The Fourth Century (Nebraska 2001) and Hélène Cixous’s The Book of Promethea (Nebraska 1991).


"This straightforward yet surreal work is beautifully written. Almost every paragraph contains an original and elaborate word construction that never rings false. Wing, who has translated two previous novels by Constant, deserves recognition for her work."—Library Journal

"Sad ironies illuminate this deftly mapped journey to the postcolonial heart of darkness. . . . With prose both dark and rollicking, Constant chronicles colonialism's terrible absurdities and reverberating effects on both Africans and Europeans."—Publishers Weekly

"French novelist Constant, a Prix Goncourt winner, presents a whip-smart postcolonial satire. . . . Constant's mordantly funny novel is at once a brilliantly imagined and rambunctious inquiry into environmental havoc, our close ties to our primate cousins, adulterated religion, the mystique of whiteness, and the persistence of racism, and a piquant tale of survival and longing."—Booklist

"A thoroughly odd and original book."—Trish Crapo, Women's Review of Books

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