he French slave trade forced more than one million Africans across the
Atlantic to the islands of the Caribbean. No one knows exactly how
many, nor do we know how many died in the process—in Africa, on the
ocean, or thereafter. This triangular trade defined relations between France,
Africa, and the New World and allowed France to establish the richest single
colony on Earth (Saint-Domingue, later Haiti). Yet the impact of the French
slave trade on the wider culture of France and its colonies has remained
gravely underexamined. This book is, first and foremost, about the French
Atlantic slave trade, its representations and its aftermath, in literature and
film from France, Africa, and the Caribbean. The subject proves difficult to
contain: by its nature it spans the oceans and creates ripple effects in both
time and space. I have tried to follow those ripples wherever they may flow,
around the ocean and through the centuries. The broader consequences of
the slave trade, both visible and invisible, are found today all around the
Atlantic, in representations ranging from the historically explicit to the ex-
plicitly fictional. This study seeks, insofar as is possible, to cover that range,
with a principal emphasis on the contributions of creative fiction.
As a subject of inquiry the slave trade cannot help but cast a horrific,
negative light on the vogue in postcolonial studies for the celebration of
encounter, movement, and hybridity. In the context of the slave trade, en-
counter meant war and capture; movement was a forced march in chains
and a Middle Passage without return; hybridity came from rape. In this case
the field of intercultural inquiry—the study of how cultures define them-
selves in relation to each other—is inarguably built on a foundation of radi-
cal inequality and exploitation unto death. My goal in this study is not, how-
ever, to make any particular point about theory; rather it is to read history,
literature, and film together.
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