Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Windward Heights by Maryse Conde

Windward Heights by Maryse Conde
First published in French as La migration des coeurs by Editions Robert Laffont in France in 1995. English language translation by Richard Philcox published by Faber and Faber in 1998.

One of my 2019 Mount TBR Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Bought a second-hand copy at the Hope Association book fair

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prizewinning writer Maryse Condé reimagines Emily Brontë's passionate novel as a tale of obsessive love between the "African" Razyé and Cathy, the mulatto daughter of the man who takes Razyé in and raises him, but whose treatment goads him into rebellious flight. Retaining the emotional power of the original, Condé shows the Caribbean society in the wake of emancipation.

I read Bronte's original Wuthering Heights a decade ago and couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Looking back at my Goodreads now I see I rated it 2 stars which basically means I struggled through to the end! I remember not getting any of the emotional feels about which other readers raved, and being very disappointed. So when I spotted Windward Heights at a book sale I was torn as to whether to take a chance or not. I was won over by the fact that Maryse Conde would be my first Guadaloupean author - so a big WorldReads tick - and by the synopsis focusing on her portrayal of Caribbean emancipation and surrounding issues in the late nineteenth century.

I am pleased that I did choose to read Windward Heights. I still didn't get much of a sense of the doomed romance and, of course, the central narrative thread doesn't contain any surprises because it closely follows Wuthering Heights. However I loved Conde's supporting cast. Similarly to The Other Americans, Windward Heights is narrated by a number of characters, some of whom recur and others who just get a single chapter. Through their eyes I could see the deep racial divides across all levels of society and was surprised to learn that it wasn't only former black slaves set against their white masters, but also divisions between peoples of any differing heritage. Characters make remarks and hold attitudes that in today's society would be absolutely outrageous, but in the context of this post-slavery setting provide a vivid idea of the country. Conde also beautifully evokes the precarious natural situation on these islands. The hurricane scenes especially are terrifyingly atmospheric.

So overall, I loved this novel apart from the romantic storyline! I did get a better understanding of how Cathy's betrayal of Rayze resounded through the following generations, but I'm now convinced I will never comprehend what other readers see in the Heathcliff / Rayze character. Just not my type I guess!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Maryse Conde / Historical fiction / Books from Guadaloupe


  1. I've never read it but glad to hear you enjoyed it.

  2. I will have to find this one, thank you for bringing it to my attention!