AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): New Caledonia is moving towards independence, and in 2018 its people are due to begin voting in a series of referenda on the topic.
One person passionate about the issue is poet, politician and author Déwé Gorodé.
In Auckland recently to launch a newly published translation of her 2005 novel The Wreck (L'Epave), Gorodé has been a campaigner and unafraid to say things the way she sees them.
The book was the first Kanak novel and a controversial expose of the ordinary life of a Kanak. Lila, the fictional but symbolic character, is a victim of domestic and sexual violence and ultimately murder.
The book was translated by Dr Deborah Walker-Morrison, head of French at the University of Auckland, and Professor Raylene Ramsay, director of the Pacific French Research Centre.
Ramsay says the book is honest about the issues facing women in New Caledonia.
“It’s quite a surprising novel,” she says.
“And astonishingly critical of the latent violence and in particular sexual violence issue within Kanak society itself.
“She has said things that are not politically correct and it’s a powerful piece of literature.”
In their critical introduction, the translators say the novel “is an ‘outing’ of the problem of incest and sexual predation perpetuated across generations, and a manifesto for women’s liberation and right to speak to a society in which sexual mores can be hypocritical and repressive of women’s sexual bodies.”
Struggle to maintain original content
Both Ramsay and Walker-Morrison had to work hard to ensure the original and complete work of Gorodé would go to print.
The original printers in Fiji were surprisingly interested in cutting it down and making changes.
Walker-Morrison says their approach was “unbelievable”.
“They wanted a Western popular fiction book, and so we refused,” she says.
“The changes would have been whitewashing, smoothing out whatever was rough.
“Déwé’s style is quite original, she combines smooth, classical passages of polished and conventional French prose and so it needed to be translated as such. But other parts are abrupt and fragmented. There’s often a shift in tone, rhythm and register, sometimes mid-paragraph to achieve her effect.
“We wanted to respect that.”
From 2004 to 2007 Gorodé was the Vice-President of the Parliament and currently she is the Minister for Women’s Affairs and Citizenship.
Ramsay, who has also translated Gorodé’s poems into English, and has lived in New Caledonia, says she is courageous.
“There are difficulties with publishing in the Kanak world,” she says. “Issues with who has the authority to speak and women’s rights and issues.”
Walker-Morrison says Gorodé is all the braver publishing such a work while still in public office.
“It’s the sort of work that one would expect a retired politician to publish,” she says.
“She knows damn well the criticisms that she is likely to cause.”
Walker-Morrison also says that despite her determination and honesty, Gorodé is “extraordinarily sensitive to cultural issues”.