The first-person narrative of a savant slave, Patricia Eakins's The Marvelous Adventures of Pierre Baptiste is one of the most imaginative novels in many years. From the opening pages, the reader is swept up by the linguistic fireworks of Eakins's autodidactic protagonist as he recounts "the tribulations of bondage in the sugar isles," his escape and how he was marooned, and his subsequent trials and adventures. Making expert use of historical convention and with an ear for rhetorical authenticity, Eakins has given us a compelling novel that bridges not only human cultures but the chasm between human and animal.
Here then is the account of the life and times of an African man of letters "whose ambitions were realized in strange and unexpected ways, yet who made peace with several gods and established a realm of equality & freedom & bounty in which no creature lives from another's labor." Pierre Baptiste emerges as an embodiment of all that is lost in a racist culture.
Author's web site: http://www.fabulara.com
Author interview with Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/show-interview/e-p-akinsatricia/002-5686271-2394036
Frigate: The Transverse Review of Books edited by Patricia Eakins
Reading Group Study Questions
1. What do you make of the fact that a twentieth-century European-American female is writing in the person of an eighteenth-century African-American male? What implications are there for prose style and character creation?
2. Pierre considers himself a "philosophe," a "savant." He dreams of communing in France with the eminent natural historian, Buffon. Despite Pierre's creation of a "cyclopedic histoire" of New- and Old-World African lore, can an argument be made that Pierre's adoption of Enlightenment values is a betrayal of his fellow slaves?
3. What does Pierre Baptiste's narrative seem to be saying about erotic love and conjugal relationships?
4. The idea of the parasite is central to this novel. In what ways does the foregrounding of that concept affect your sense of the relationship between "culture" and "nature"? Between "nature" and "nurture"?
5. The scientific and spiritual discoveries of Pierre Baptiste have led him to believe that humans and animals are part of the same spectrum of being as gods. He also believes that animals are possessed of spiritual powers. Yet Pierre Baptiste is colonized by creatures whose birth robs him of powers of speech. Can this paradox be reconciled with Pierre's escape from slavery, which had previously relegated him to the status of chattel beast?
6. What is your understanding of Pierre's utopian project? Is it the same as the author's? How does it relate to any utopian projects you might have?
7. What does Pierre's treatment of Pamphile when he washes ashore on Pierre's island say about Pierre? Would you have treated Pamphile the same way? Why or why not?
8. What is the nature of the spiritual transformation Pierre sustains? In what ways are his metaphysics like or unlike your own?
9. Can you imagine a different ending for this book? How would the story be different if it had been told from the point-of-view of Pélérine Vérité? Of Rose? Of Pamphile?
10. If you had to be marooned on a desert isle with someone, would you be pleased if it turned out to be Pierre? If so, why? If not, why not?
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