Finding a way into learning

Urvashi Nangia

school-days School Days is an English translation of Chemin-d’ Ecole written by Chamoiseau in 1994, and translated by Coverdale. It’s a brilliant but disturbing, autobiographical narrative, describing the author’s childhood set in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Martinique was earlier a French colony, which was later transformed into an overseas region of France. Martinique’s official language is French, although many of its inhabitants also speak Antillean Creole (Wikipedia).

The book is about a little black boy and his quest with learning. French is the language of instruction in his school and he comes from a Creole background. It’s a very sensitive story highlighting the challenges of inclusion. The boy is constantly experiencing the tension between the Creole and French cultures. It describes the journey of the boy from his pre-school years to his memories of being in a big school. The narrative is divided into two parts – ‘longing’ and ‘survival’. Reading the book feels like reading a play and a story together! The writing style juxtaposes the very essence of the ‘oral’, present in Creole language along with the French language.

In the first part, the author describes the little boy’s high curiosity and his intense desire to know. Everything is a mystery for him and he longs to discover the things that the school and the outside world have to offer. The boy is extremely fascinated with the satchel, chalk, slate and sponge. It’s a delight to read about the different ‘make-believe’ plays of the boy with all these objects and his wonderful discovery of the use of the chalk for scribbling! “Not even for one moment did he have enough chalk, enough sponge, enough slate…having accidently discovered how beautifully the apartment walls lent themselves to the magic of chalk, he soon covered them with it…” (pg. 19). His play slowly leads him to discover that there is a code – there are things, which can be inscribed, deciphered, and read. He makes this crucial link between speech and the written word.

The author is an M.Phil scholar in the School of Education at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She can be reached at

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