Smatarese's Reviews > The Kingdom of This World

The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier
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Jan 21, 10

Alejo Carpentier’s “The Kingdom of This World” adds credence to the idea that fantastic works need not take the form of unreadable tomes. The novel, in only 180 pages, tells the story of Ti Noël, a slave living on the French side of the island of Hispaniola, in broad strokes, as he lives through colonial slavery, two slave uprising and, eventually Haitian independence. What the book lacks in concrete, historical facts about Haiti’s history (including a lack of identifiers of what characters were real people and which ones are purely fictional), it makes up for in both the breadth of its message (and narrative, for that matter) and rich imagery and prose.
Carpentier’s work could be read as a historical novel about Haiti, a commentary on social hierarchies and power structures—after the French rulers of the island are driven out, the Mulatto and Black leaders being to oppress the populace, merely replacing their former masters—of the Americas or (among other options), a commentary and critique of the Slave experience in the Americas. Carpentier’s also creates breathtaking images in the minds of readers through his writing style and use of images to accompany his rich and enticing narrative. One particularly striking image describes the use of conch shells to signal the start of the first mass slave uprising:

“From far off came the sound of a conch-shell trumpet. What was strange was that the slow bellow was answered by others in the hills and forests…it was as though all the shell trumpets of the coast, all the Indian lambis, all the purple conchs that serves as doorstops, all the shells that lay alone and petrified on the summits of the hills, had begun to sing in chorus” (66).

Such evocative imagery provides not only for a fantastic historical novel, but also for a rich and rewarding literary experience.

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