Gisèle Pineau

A Taste of Eternity

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A Taste of Eternity Summary

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A Taste of Eternity, a work of contemporary fiction by Gisele Pineau, follows two women: Sybille, a young black mother and her friend and confidante, Lila an elderly white woman. Set in Paris in the 1990s, Sybile reflects on the life and death of her friend Lila. As the story unfolds, revealing the history of Lila, Sybile, and Lila’s long-time lover, Henry, the women form a bond based on hope, love, and a celebration of Caribbean culture.

The novel begins when Sybile, a young mother coming from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to Paris, meets Lila. Lila, an elderly Parisian woman, immediately takes Sybile and her infant child under her wing, serving as a kind of mother and grandmother to the displaced pair. While Sybile with her life ahead of her feels hopeful about the prospect of life in France, Lila is nearing the end of her life. As Lila encourages Sybile and helps her create a home in Paris, she reflects on her past life, including the sins she feels she committed in her youth.

Raised in Guadeloupe, Sybile reminds Lila of a young lover she once took. Lila met her lover, Henry, a black soldier, on Liberation Day in Paris. They met in the streets – he had been fighting for France. Falling in love, they soon were confronted with the realities of race and racism in turn-of-the-century France.

The novel moves from Paris to the Caribbean, including both Guadeloupe and the island of St. John, where Henry was from. It also journeys back to New York, where Lila recounts some of her history. Lila also tells Sybile a bit of Henry’s history, demonstrating her ignorance about race when she claims that Henry was the child of a consensual relationship between Henry’s black mother and her white employer. Sybile, a black Caribbean woman who understands the nuances of this environment, having struggled in similar circumstances, sees through Lila’s ignorance. Because relations between black women and white men were forbidden, Henry’s mother, Jenny, agreed to marry a black man and claim Henry was their love child.

Considering his birth, Henry felt that race relations had changed during his lifetime. He thought he and Lila could have an open relationship; Lila knew differently. A white woman, she was raised with a different set of beliefs, which made their love challenging and eventually impossible. Though race relations have clearly changed enough by the 1990s, when Sybile arrives in Paris, for the two women to be friends, there is still some clear racial tension between Sybile and Lila. Lila uses racially charged language with her friend, which Sybile ignores – perhaps out of deference, perhaps out of fear of Lila’s anger.

The novel reflects on love, grief, and race. Lila confesses to Sybile that she regrets a relationship she had during the war with a German soldier. She feels haunted by the ghosts of neighboring Jewish tenants whom she did not protect during that period. Similarly, Sybile has her own struggles—to find a place for herself in Paris, living as a single mother, with the added stigma of being a woman from a French colony. Despite their transgressions, Lila and Sybile have a strong love for each other and share their hope. Their feelings for one another and their ability to overcome and forgive, speak to the novel’s greater theme of resilience and the insistent survival of love.

Gisele Pineau, a French novelist and former psychiatric nurse, was born in Paris and has Guadeloupean ancestry. Pineau writes about growing up black in Paris and about the difficulties of finding a community as a black Parisian—feeling out of place in Paris, she was told she was “too cosmopolitan” for life in Guadeloupe. She has written dozens of novels, including her most well-known book L’exile selon Julia. She currently lives and writes in Guadeloupe.