On a Woman’s Madness
An epic, many-layered feminist love story set in a fragmented post-colonial society
‘I am Noenka, which means Not Again. Born of two opposites, a woman and a man who pull even my dreams wide open. I am a woman, even if I don’t know where that begins and where being a woman ends, and in other people’s eyes I am black, and I keep wondering what that means.’
After the young Afro-Surinamese woman Noenka is raped by her husband Louis on their wedding night, she flees in search of refuge. But having broken the unwritten rules of her community, she has no choice but to leave her small town and move to the city. There she faces agonizing choices: between motherhood and freedom, between European, African, and indigenous traditions, and between the violent but seductive Louis, her gentle childhood friend Ramses, and the alluring Gabrielle. Noenka’s indecision drives her to the brink of madness. Will she give up her new-found independence and return to her husband? As the novel reaches its devastating climax, she realizes – too late – what her heart is telling her.
When On a Woman’s Madness was first published in 1982, it provoked strong and diverse responses. This complex and challenging novel captivated readers, selling some 40,000 copies soon after publication. Roemer herself has described it as a ‘fragmentary autobiography’: ‘The story is not my story, the facts are not mine, but the emotions are my own. It is the story of my emotional process.’
The bold and original use of typography, flashbacks, and internal monologue make this a many-layered novel that raises more questions than it answers.
Noenka’s struggles are emblematic of the dilemmas of decolonization in a country struggling with both the legacy of Western slavery and oppression and its own internal systems of racism and patriarchy. The resolution for which she longs is a new, egalitarian kind of love, which embraces the beauty and mystery of difference. Roemer used her position as an expatriate writer to shatter taboos and confront the traumas of Surinamese history and culture head-on. But most of all, she created a timeless classic about a woman’s quest for love and identity.