Q: Dominique Lancastre, you have recently published your second novel, « Une Femme Chambardée » (A woman in turmoil) with éditions Fortuna. Could you briefly tell us what it is about?
Une Femme chambardée tells the story of a woman facing the best she can numerous problems she has to deal with in her daily life. The story is set in the Caribbean in Guadeloupe with the eruption of the Soufrière volcano as a background setting, eruption which comes to turn everything upside down in 1976 on a seemingly quiet island.
Q : Was this story, with the Soufrière as a background setting, inspired by an actual character?
As in any novel there’s always some truth. Helena’s character was inspired by a photograph. A woman dressed in black walking with her head bent down and holding a black purse. That photo sent me a few years back and I had the impression I was seeing a woman from my childhood called Héléna. Incidentally, some very vivid memories came back to me while writing this novel and I was able to transcribe some scenes from my childhood. But that’s only a small part of the novel.
Q: What initially drove you to start writing?
I’m a fan of History, particularly the history of the Caribbean. The way those islands were created, giving birth to a remarkable, unprecedented phenomenon of multiculturalism. While getting into this history one discovers that it’s an impressive cultural breeding ground, if not a kind of mine where one discovers each day unknown pieces of information or history. For a writer it’s fabulous. Then I got interested in authors from the Caribbean. One has to really put the effort in though. Caribbean literature is categorized in francophone literature, which is the most stupid thing. For can we really say that Aimé Césaire is a francophone writer and poet? It doesn’t make sense. This ridiculous categorization has been detrimental to the authors for a long time. One has to really look for these authors and get interested in them. That literature is not limited to five or six famous authors as they’d like you to believe. There’s a multitude of authors in the Caribbean and the more I read them the more I feel like writing.
Q: What place does Creole culture hold in your life as compared to the mainland culture?
Creole culture does not occupy any place according to me and my own experience, I am Creole culture and I go about with it, I transport it with me, I live with Creoleness, which allows me to absorb and digest other cultures.
Q: How do stay in touch with your native land and culture?
It’s an interesting question but it’s not a question to me. For as I said, my native (Creole) culture is within me. I think that traveling around the world has further developed this sense of belonging to a land. Knowing where I’m from, I know exactly where I’m going. I know that sooner or later I’ll go back home. I don’t miss home because I always have home within me. It’s very important to me. Homesickness for me often corresponds to a non-development. One remains stuck on a period they idealize and want to go back to somewhere. The past remains the past and though it’s important not to forget the past it’s equally important to look towards the future. I was browsing the web the other day and I stumbled upon this quote from John Cage: "I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." He’s perfectly right in a way. Innovation is all I see.
Q: One of your novels, La Véranda, is being studied in high schools and you even have organized a high school competition in Martinique with Ernest Pépin and José Lemoine, to find a « sequel » to La Véranda. Is that for you a way to give back to your native land?
Absolutely. Pass on my own experience to the next generation seems very important to me. This new generation already lives in a multicultural world. It’s very important to bring them knowledge of their own culture they must be proud of. We’re not anymore in a battle for recognition. These youngsters have internet, social networks, sharing is done at an amazing speed. What’s missing I guess is to generate interest for this enriching culture that is theirs. Literature needs to remain a pleasure. The pleasure of reading, of finding oneself in the characters, of identifying with the environment in which the author is immersing us. It shouldn’t always be an instrument of power or an instrument of combat. It’s not either telling a story just for the sake of telling a story.
Q: Would you say that Une Femme Chambardée is also a feminist novel?
I’ve always had trouble with the word feminist. The history of feminism used to be meaningful. Nowadays, even though there are still differences between men and women for salaries, we can’t really speak of feminism. As far as Héléna is concerned, she has just as much dislike for men when they behave in an outrageous manner (Monsieur de Malmaison) as for the women who allow them to do so (the cashiers) in the workplace. I turned her into a sociologist. She’s there, observing and saying nothing. Let me make this clear: I’m not saying we’re at the advent of feminism because women are nowadays piloting Boeings and Airbuses. I’m just saying times have changed. Héléna is a fighter. She fights everything, from the ignominy of men to the ineptness of religious conceptions. She, as a woman, doesn’t see what all of this may bring her and to what extend it’s going to improve her condition. Her revolt is only hers, a kind of internal revolution. To tell the truth she’s a woman under pressure who could burst at any moment. I’m often asked, especially by female readers, if there is a sequel to that moment. Maybe they expect more revolt.
Annabelle C. Vergne