Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Romance of a Spahi by Pierre Loti

The Romance of a SpahiThe Romance of a Spahi by Pierre Loti
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A spahi was a horse-soldier in the French army. This book is a tale of a young, naive Frenchman who becomes a spahi and is stationed in Senegal. I bought this book, because this edition is a lovey leatherbound, gilt-edged edition. I had no idea what a spahi was or what the story was about, I just thought the book itself was beautiful.

Well, you know what they say about judging a book by its cover? The content of the book is as far away from the beauty of the cover as is possible. I read older books a lot, as I collect them, and am used to the casual racism and/or sexism that is innate in these older books. But this one was just HORRIBLE. Female black Africans are referred to as Negresses, and they are either lazy and stupid, or sexy and trying to trap the white solders. The blacks beat drums at night, "stirring up the black blood" which makes the soldiers go wild with lust and drink. Oh, and let's not forget the constant reference to the "smell of the Negro".

Our young hero 'falls under the spell' of a lovely black woman (oh, excuse me - Negress), who uses spells and totems to bind her to him. He loves her but also hates her because she's black and he loves her. So he beats her, of course. Which she endures, of course. She follows him even when he has to go on a mission to the interior.

I suppose this is a good example of the "romance" novels of that era (romance in the classic sense, not necessarily 'romantic'), but it was SO difficult to get past the racism and imperialism. The one good thing was that the author was able to really give a sense of the places - the dry white city, the desert, the jungle. The descriptions were very vivid, and made me FEEL what it was like to be there. That's the ONLY positive about this book (other than this edition is pretty! ;) But I really cannot recommend this book to the casual reader - but only to those who may be studying literature of that time and type.

No comments: