He quickly got up and with eyes full of tears protested wildly:
‘It’s not me. It’s you. It’s your fault. You were ashamed of all the happiness we had together when as little heathens we roamed wild and free. You began to despise me. To prefer those with white skin, who read books and speak fancy French. You didn’t realize it was yourself that you were despising, that you were repudiating. And in the end it was your ruin, because you can’t lie to your own blood. You can’t.’
Razyé, this novel’s rebellious, vengeful, and machiavellic version of Heathcliff, tells a lovesick Cathy, the well-to-do daughter of a mulatto farmer and servant mother, who forsakes Razyé and marries Aymeric De Linsseuil, a rich White Creole planter.
Maryse Condé‘s Windward Heights is a beautiful and exotic novel, a passionate reimagining of a torrid liason between two star-crossed lovers of color, torn apart by class and racial oppression.
We’re all aware by now of Andrea Arnold’s latest screen adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic novel. Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, set for theater release this spring, is the first – of what seems like zillion film adaptations – to reincarnate Heathcliff as a black man; some of us were rather pleasantly surprised at Arnold’s courage in giving the original tale this non-conventional twist. After all, Bronte’s 1848 novel described Heathcliff as “dark-skinned gypsy in aspect.”
Windward Heights, set in Havana, Cuba and Guadaloupe, explores the rich Caribbean cultures of these islands colonized by the Spaniards and the French at the turn of the century. Author Condé, a Guadaloupean who has lived in Guinea, Ghana and Senegal, intelligently explores the legacy of slavery and the complex dynamics between the rich White Creoles, the plantation system, interracial relationships, the servants (Black and Asian Indian – from India), mulattos, the bourgeous mentality, gender roles, African ancestry, Voodoo, Christianity and more.
Windward though, focuses on the experiences leading up to the emotional and spiritual bond between Razyé and Cathy, both African descendants, and the devastating consequences of their separation.
So, I can’t help but wonder, perhaps fantasize of the possibilities of this novel ever making it to the big screen. Realistically, chances are slim. Certainly, it seems unlikely that an American film production company would touch a rather faithful adaptation of Windward with a 10 foot pole.
There are a few reasons why…
Razyé, the orphan rescued by Hubert Gagneur (Cathy’s father) to live with Cathy and her brother Justin, is essentially damaged. After losing Cathy, the only person who has shown him true love and compassion in his life, he’s scarred and full of rage. To avenge Cathy’s rich white husband Aymeric, Razyé seduces his White sister and Cathy’s sister-in-law, to the scorn of Aymeric and his mother, who by the way, has never been accepting of his marriage to Cathy because she’s Black.
That’s not it though. Razyé ends up physically and mentally abusing his White wife and mother of several children, who’s in love with him; he also barely demonstrates fatherly love for his offspring. Oh, and he also hates God.
Oh yeah, his revenge for Cathy’s white hubby, who’s portrayed as a kind character to all races, doesn’t end there. He joins a group of Black revolutionaries in the island, who are against worker exploitation and oppression, and sets out to burn all the White Creoles’ plantations; his major motivation though, is to destroy Aymeric’s property.
Razyé is a hard drinking, gambling, womanzing, aggressive, cruel, black-magic practicing anti-hero, but I still loved his character! You see, I couldn’t help to be immersed by all his passion and anger. Underneath it all, Razyé is a broken soul, oppressed by his race and class, treated like scum throughout his whole life, but whose love for Cathy goes with him to the grave. Now isn’t that romantic? :-)
It seems like I’m giving away a whole bunch of spoilers, but really this novel has many more elements and characters that go beyond this central story. Many chapters are told through the eyes of servants, who also tell their very interesting and personal stories. Also, the stories of Cathy’s and Razyé’s children are told into their adulthood.
There’s really too many characters to consolidate into a feature film, if a somewhat faithful film adaptation were to be developed. There’s so much to chew on though, especially when it comes to the main characters.
If you’re interested in reading the novel, head over to Amazon, where it’s on sale for $5.85. While you’re on there, check out the reviews will you? I’m definitely interested in the other works by Maryse Condé.
Have any of you read the novel? Would you like to see see an adaptation on the big screen? What are the possibilities? I don’t think it has been optioned, not that I know of.
Filmmakers and production companies out there reading…any takers? :) Somebody out there please revolutionise the film industry and adapt this novel!!