Slave Old Man

A Novel

The “heart-stopping” (The Millions), “richly layered” (Brooklyn Rail), “haunting, beautiful” (BuzzFeed) story of an escaped captive and the killer hound that pursues him

Slave Old Man is a cloudburst of a novel, swift and compressed—but every page pulses, blood-warm. . . . The prose is so electrifyingly synesthetic that, on more than one occasion, I found myself stopping to rub my eyes in disbelief.” —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

Winner, 2018 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for a Translation of a Literary Work, Modern Language Association
Winner, 2019 Best Translated Book Award for Fiction

Shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man was published to accolades in hardcover in a brilliant translation by Linda Coverdale, winning the French-American Foundation Translation Prize and chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2018.

Now in paperback, Slave Old Man is a gripping, profoundly unsettling story of an elderly enslaved person’s daring escape into the wild from a plantation in Martinique, with his enslaver and a fearsome hound on his heels. We follow them into a lush rain forest where nature is beyond all human control: sinister, yet entrancing and even exhilarating, because the old man’s flight to freedom will transform them all in truly astonishing—even otherworldly—ways, as the overwhelming physical presence of the forest reshapes reality and time itself.

Chamoiseau’s exquisitely rendered new novel is an adventure for all time, one that fearlessly portrays the demonic cruelties of the slave trade and its human costs in vivid, sometimes hallucinatory prose. Offering a loving and mischievous tribute to the Creole culture of early nineteenth-century Martinique, this novel takes us on a unique and moving journey into the heart of Caribbean history.



“Chamoiseau writes in a wild medley of French and Creole, sliding from dialect to classical expression like a freeform jazz musician. Linda Coverdale’s translation, the first in English, is gloriously unshackled. . . . This [is a] beautiful book by a writer who’s as original as any I’ve read all year.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Somewhere between a fever dream and a prose poem. . . . This novel is a transfixing, profound experience.”
—Best Books of the Summer by Publishers Weekly
“A thunderclap of a novel. His rich language, brilliant in Linda Coverdale’s English, evokes the underground forces of resistance that carry the slave old man away. It’s a novel for fugitives, and for the future.”
—Best Translated Book Award for Fiction, 2019
“A richly layered, obsessive, lyrical novel.”
The Brooklyn Rail
“Chamoiseau’s texts are linguistic interventions . . . at once literary feats and statements of cultural political protest. . . . [Slave Old Man] is poignant, timely, and radical. . . . Linda Coverdale does an impeccable, sensitive job.”
“Haunting, beautiful, and necessary.”
“Chamoiseau’s prose is astounding in its beauty . . . and he ups the stakes by making this novel a breathtaking thriller, as well.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“One can’t help but wonder why it took so long for this treasure to be translated into English. But it is here now, and the world Chamoiseau stitches together through the eyes of this aging runaway reveals the enduring cruelty of bondage and the endless creativity of its survivors and their descendants.”
Booklist (starred review)
“The reader is invited to blaze a trail through this forest of symbols. The last chapter will shed light on the profound meaning of the fable. But the point is less to capture than to be captivated by the energy, the luxuriance, and the playful solemnity of writing that masterfully melds French, Creole, and yet other voices as well.”
“Imagine Walt Whitman adapting Apocalypto and you might approximate the awe and adrenaline of Chamoiseau’s action pastoral.”
—Julian Lucas, The New York Times Book Review
“A linguistic masterpiece. . . . If you want to read something fresh and different, this Martiniquan literary novel with its mishmash of languages, voices, and styles won’t disappoint.”
OZY Media

News and Reviews

Reader’s Guide

For book clubs, classrooms, and other group discussions, check out our Reading Group Guide for Slave Old Man.

Lit Hub “Best Translated Novels of the Decade” Honorable Mention

Slave Old Man received an honorable mention on Lit Hub’s “Best Translated Novels of the Decade” list.

New York Times Book Review

Read a review of Slave Old Man in the New York Times Book Review

Books by Patrick Chamoiseau

Creole Folktales

Patrick Chamoiseau

Goodreads Reviews