In 1941, as the Vichy regime consolidated its control of France, André Breton left the country for the island of Martinique. A poet and the principal founder of surrealism, Breton did not stay long, but his visit inspired the essays and poems of this book. Martinique: Snake Charmer is one of surrealism's most important texts, and it has been called "the most beautiful of all books" about the island. (Martinique: Snake Charmer also includes nine evocative drawings by the surrealist André Masson, a companion of Breton's during his stay on the island.) First collected into a single volume in 1948 and in print in France ever since, this is the first English translation of a work that, in series editor Franklin Rosemont's view, seeks "not merely to question the dogmas and platitudes of so-called common sense and 'established facts,' but to deviate from them, absolutely, in an imaginative quest for new and untried solutions to society's gravest problems."
In the tropical beauty of Martinique, Breton found what he called "the Marvelous"; he also found outrageous greed, corruption, and colonial brutality. His guide through this schizophrenic place was Aimé Césaire, a Martinican surrealist and writer who Breton later championed in the book's most important essay, "A Great Black Poet." Breton recognized how Césaire and others had adapted surrealism to the specific conditions of the West Indies, enriching the movement in ways he could not have imagined. As a result, Breton never succumbed to the gloom that afflicted postwar Europe. He and Césaire and others continued the surrealists' quest undaunted, propelled in large part by the spirit theycaptured in this dynamic book.