Reading time: Less than 2 minutes.
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I am a historian; my daily life is much like analysing history through scientific research. But there are other ways of approaching history. Literature is one of these ways. Today, if you read French, I suggest that you read Gisèle Pineau’s French novel Mes quatre femmes (My Four Women) between historical memory, genealogy and literature.
Gisèle Pineau was born in Paris in 1956 of Guadeloupean parents. She spent her youth between the Paris region and the Antilles. In the 1970s, she began studying literature, before training to become a psychiatric nurse. It is this profession that she practiced in Guadeloupe where she lived for more than 20 years. At the same time, Gisèle Pineau was writing. She had a taste for writing from a very early age; she found consolation in it, a way to survive and to face life’s difficulties, family secrets.
With Mes quatre femmes, Gisèle Pineau shares her family history. The novel takes the form of a closed door where we discover Angélique born in 1792, the enslaved ancestor freed in the 19th century, Julia her grandmother, born in 1898, attached to the Guadeloupean land, Gisèle dying of heartbreak in 1949, at only 27 years of age, and her sister Daisy (mother of the author) who « in the grayest of exile and its misfortunes always stood up for her children and dreamt her life in love novels. » All four women remember. Locked up in a black prison of memories, they evoke their lives, their daily difficulties, their suffering as Guadeloupean women.
Gisèle Pineau shares her family history and memory passed down through the generations, placing it in a broader historical context. This is one of the aspects I particularly appreciated during this reading. Beyond this family history, it is a social history of Guadeloupe shared by all that is told. The reader navigates between class, gender and perceived race, in the relationships master/slave, man/woman… He/she goes through the key moments of our history: slavery and its two abolitions, the wars and dissidence in the time of Sorin.
In short, I have just read Mes quatre femmes and I found it to be a beautiful, captivating and accessible novel for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the memories inherited from 200 years of colonial history. And you, have you ever read this story? Has it referred you to your own family history?
Gisèle Pineau, Mes quatre femmes, France, éd. Philippe Rey, 2007.