Haïti parmi les vivants. Arles, Actes Sud, 2010, 184p. 

Ce livre est un témoignage. Divisé en deux grandes parties, il met en scène le séisme du 12 janvier 2010 à travers plusieurs voix. La première partie se constitue surtout d’une chronique tenue par Lyonel Trouillot pour le magazine Le Point du 19 au 27 janvier. Scènes des rues de Port-au-Prince, bribes de ce qu’on entend à la radio, désarroi et angoisse des résidents, incompréhension face au mutisme du gouvernement... Ces quelques pages reflètent toute la confusion de ces premiers jours, tout en mettant en relief l’absurdité de la situation : « On ne peut pas pleurer tant de morts en même temps. Cela en devient presque ridicule ».

Dans la deuxième partie du livre, des membres de l’Atelier Jeudi Soir et des auteurs invités racontent le séisme à leur manière. Certains choisissent la fiction, créant des personnages et des situations qui auraient pu être en ce jour fatidique. D’autres racontent ce qu’ils ont vu, ce qu’ils ont vécu. D’autres encore optent pour la poésie. Tous les textes sont vrais. Ils arrivent à émouvoir tant par leur beauté que par l’horreur de ce qui est raconté, l’horreur de ce que l’on sait être la toile de fond du livre. Comme dit le poète Georges Castera : « A chaque famille/ sa ration de mort/ Partout s’imposent les murs/plus intimement/ dans notre vie/ sans bonjour/ sans sommation ».

Dans « Que sera la vie sans vous ? » Valérye Malebranche raconte comment elle a aidé après le séisme : « Direction hôpital… mes jambes ne tiennent plus mais elles sont indemnes… il faut y aller… il faut aider » et encore, « Je tiens le sérum pour aider le médecin à tenter de recoudre un petit de 3 ans sans anesthésie, la peau du crâne arrachée… arrive un autre, défiguré. Je vais m’évanouir, non je n’ai pas le droit… un policier, le pied arraché… il faut le panser… ».

D’autres textes sont plus sobres dans leur évocation de l’horreur : Le poème « Partage des survivants » de Marc-Endy Simon devient d’autant plus poignant quand on lit la dédicace et sait que parmi ceux qui ont pris « la route du repos prématuré », il y a son fils.

Il est certain qu’Haïti parmi les vivants deviendra un livre incontournable dans l’histoire littéraire du pays, tant par la beauté des textes que par la profusion de voix témoignant de façon intime d’un même événement.

Les auteurs : Sarah Berrouet, Faubert Bolivar, Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, Georges Castera, Syto Cavé, Marc Deloche, Schamma Delva, Olivier Dournon, René Jean-Jumeau, Chantal Kénol, Henri Kénol, Dany Laferrière, Michel Le Bris, Valérye Malebranche, Valérie Marin La Meslée, Kettly Mars, Monique Mesplé-Lassalle, Jean-Euphèle Milcé, Georgia Nicolas, Coralie Placide, Emmelie Prophète, Marc-Endy Simon, Evelyne Trouillot, Lyonel Trouillot, Jocelyne Trouillot-Lévy



Haiti on My Mind: Stories by Haitian American Teens (2010) is a recent collection of essays by youth of Haitian descent edited by Dana Vincent. The book was published by Youth Communication, a non-profit youth journalism program that publishes teen stories in books, magazines and other venues. When I received a message about the book from a colleague, I was intrigued by the premise and immediately ordered it, eager to see youth perspective documented in essay form.

The foreword is written by Edwidge Danticat who herself began writing stories as a youth and had the opportunity to participate in the Youth Communication program. Danticat immediately acknowledges the Haitian issue at the forefront of our minds as she describes traveling to Haiti for the first time after the earthquake. She writes about observing children of all ages that ‘these children, in many ways, are the symbol of Haiti that is to come. We can either shield and protect them from a very difficult start or we can turn away and let their stories and voices fade…The young people of Youth Communication have decided not to let these stories fade or die…Haiti is on the mind of these young talented writers at this moment just as it has been on the mind of many others. However, even before this disaster, as these essays poignantly show, Haiti was already deep in the minds, and hearts, of the teen writers at Youth Communication.” (7) This is perhaps the strongest point of the book, that it reveals how teenagers—some recent immigrants, some the children of immigrants—conceptualize, imagine, and long for Haiti and how these thoughts translate in their daily lives.

Just as the editor Vincent does through a game of word association in her introduction, the writers share “what comes to mind when you hear the words Haiti or Haitians” (9). Few of us will not find the list familiar, “boat people, political instability, illegal aliens, refugees, poorest country in the…and [now] earthquake” (9). Throughout the book different writers express their own troubling encounters with different variations of these stereotypes. It is a reductive litany that we are all too familiar with given the dominant negative representations that saturate the media. The voices of Haiti on My Mind engage these stereotypes directly and in many cases manage to move beyond them.

For example, in “I May Not Look Haitian, But….” Marsha Dupiton recounts her uncomfortable experience with classmates who had reduced our culture to physical characteristics with which she did not identify. The story describes Dupiton’s struggle from being embarrassed about her Haitian identity to transforming into a self-assured and self-loving young woman with great pride in her cultural heritage. For Marsha the change was gradual, a major catalyst on her journey was the poetry of Prosper Sylvain Jr., who in “I Don’t Look Haitian” the author’s imagined interlocutor is someone who tells him that he does not look Haitian, to which Sylvain replies with a historical and cultural lesson that goes beyond the glare of media stereotypes. He writes, “I apologize if there is more to me than voodoo dolls,
and I apologize if there is more to my country than slums, poverty and hunger, and I apologize if my poetry makes you wonder if I am really Haitian, product of years of miscegenation. 
I apologize if your idea and concept of me
is not what I have proven to be.” By citing Sylvain’s poem and explaining its impact on her life, Dupiton displays the power of creative work to impact youth identity, just as the essays of Haiti on My Mind will surely impact the generation after her.

Sabrina Rencher details a similar trajectory as Dupiton, chronicling her journey into self-love and self-acceptance after many desperate attempts to fit in with those around her. For her the transition from Haiti to the United States involves changes on how her own aesthetics are perceived. She explains “I’m originally from Haiti, there I felt gorgeous. I felt as if I didn’t have to do anything to fit in with people at school” at the very beginning to introduce the sharp contrast with how she struggled to receive affirmation from her peers in the United States (99). The first piece by Cassandra Charles, “Tomorrow is Promised to No One,” is actually the only essay with the earthquake of 2010 as its thematic focus, and is the first essay of the book. Charles’ heart-wrenching story is about learning that her cousin had died in the earthquake and her continued struggle with that grief.

While many of the stories in the collection deal with the challenges of being a teenager, being an immigrant or child of immigrants, being cross-cultural, or multilingual, some of them simply narrate mundane aspects of life. Among these we find a story about a boy falling in love as a child, and another of a girl who loses a precious pair of earrings that her mother had given her. Another such story by Claude Fravien takes on the complexity of parent-child relationships across the cultural divide. As Fravien shares some of the conflicts he faced in dealing with his own parents, whether it was their restricted ideas about how he should dress or their stereotypical opinion about African Americans, he explains that his predicament is not unique. “So far I have never met one Haitian teenager who thinks of his parents as friends,” although he does clarify the generalization by writing “I am not trying to say that all Haitian parents are like mine”(91). As such, the stories offer a range of experience and attempt to cover Haitian youth experience in its complexity.

This book is ideal for middle and high school students, whether or not they are of Haitian descent. It is especially effective as a tool for teaching and reflection since the end of each chapter contains a “Think About it” section with detailed questions directly related to the essay but that delve deeper into the issues addressed. The penultimate essay, “Haiti’s Part in America’s History” by Cassandra Worrell reviews the intersections of Haitian and U.S. history, reframing that history by beginning, “Except for the United States, Haiti is the oldest republic in the Western hempishere,” in my opinion a welcome change from the other superlative adjective in the Western Hemisphere more commonly invoked (124). The final piece is a review essay of Edwidge Danticat’s memoir Brother, I’m Dying written by Kaela Bezard. The book also contains a timeline of Haitian history that helps to contextualize some of the time periods referred to. The purpose of Haiti on My Mind is largely educational. Part of that education is more traditional as in the detailed timeline of Haitian history and section about vodou. In the latter section, for example the authors distinguish between the term “voodoo” which is used throughout the book, the academic term “vodou” or “vodun,” and the way the religion is referred to as “serving the spirits” (138). The deeper value of this book as an educational tool can be found in how it corrects popular misconceptions about Haitian culture and uses the voice of teens to do so.

To me, the stories are especially compelling because they came from an age group that is often neglected in the sense that teenagers too old to be children and too young to be adults, can be overlooked. Earlier this summer, the International Labour Organization reported that global youth unemployment is at an all time high. Programs such Youth Communication in New York, and A Long Walk Home’s Girl/Friends in Chicago harness the energy and the talents of young people through the use of the arts. I could not help but think of the large number of unemployed teenagers in Haiti and wonder about the kinds of stories they could tell if given the opportunity as the writers on Haiti on My Mind had been given. Having worked with this age group through youth enrichment groups like AFAB’s (The Association of Haitian Women of Boston) Ayiti demen, I have been struck by the rawness and emotional realness of the experiences they share. Haiti on My Mind captures this raw and real essence without any pretense. It is an important collection in which youth not only educate others about Haiti, but also empower those of their generation to tell their own stories for themselves.



Evelyne Trouillot, La mémoire aux abois, Hoëbeke, (Etonnants voyageurs), 2010, 185 p.

Plus que de dialogues, il s’agit de deux monologues, deux paroles qui se croisent autour d’une même histoire, autour de souvenirs forts liés à Quisquéya.

Deux polices de caractère qui caractérisent les deux personnages fixent la frontière entre deux univers que tout oppose : celui d’une veuve de dictateur qui se meurt, exposée aux regards, tout en étant cachée par la direction de l’hospice qui l’abrite. Curieux et ironique destin !!! L’italique couché, comme cette femme fauchée par l’âge, narre à la 3ème personne les souvenirs d’Odile Doréval. Cette écriture tout en créant une mise à distance, un effet d’objectivité provoque chez le lecteur agacement, ressentiment mais aussi curieusement attachement quand la veuve évoque son enfance et sa volonté farouche de s’en sortir par le haut. L’autre monde est celui d’une jeune quisquéyenne qui ne cesse de raviver des faits douloureux et tragiques que lui a relatés Marie-Carmelle, sa mère. Evénements qui l’ont pétrie, qui continuent à la façonner voire à déterminer son être. Infirmière, elle a pour patiente la « gardienne de la révolution » dont le mari despote a décimé sa famille. Elle est pleine d’une haine contenue perçue par la veuve « Qu’elle la trouvait agaçante, cette fille qui s’occupait d’elle en la fusillant du regard » En son for intérieur, elle déplore : « …de la voir, de m’en occuper m’empêche de dormir » et se remémore les récits de sa mère : « …toutes tes histoires des Doréval reviennent me remplir la tête ». La police de caractère droite qui la symbolise, plus classique, plus normée pour un roman, raconte à la première personne les affres et souffrances de la jeune femme. Ce parti pris d’écriture entraîne, implique et saisit le lecteur qui s’identifie à ce « je » au point d’en prendre le parti, d’en épouser le point de vue. C’est en effet, là, le roman d’une double postulation, d’une double focalisation qui nous rend Quisquéya plus vraie et son histoire plus complexe. Les deux oppositions reconstruisent l’Histoire en rendant présente par des soliloques leurs histoires passées tout en refaisant vivre leurs fantômes intimes.

Huis-clos de l’hospice comme espace narratif, ce lieu de passage entre deux mondes revêt une réelle importance. Théâtre d’accueil, il organise la rencontre des deux protagonistes dans une chambre qui les isole « de toute intrusion externe ». L’un, seul, affaibli, alité, livré aux mains des personnels, est à mille lieues du luxe, de la déférence, des flatteries de son passé de femme de chef d’état -fut-il dictateur. Pour l’heure, elle a une existence « sans relief, aux couleurs de draps blancs et de murs aseptisés, de nourriture malaxée jusqu’à l’absence de goût et de senteur. Une existence aux abords de la mort. » Quoiqu’invalide elle sait encore user de ruse et décide d’installer le silence, celui-là même qui jadis bloquait toute parole dans son pays. Ainsi, poursuit-elle son œuvre de manipulation, empesée qu’elle est par le mépris et le dédain : «A partir de maintenant, elle se laisserait faire sans prononcer une parole. Elle se réfugierait dans sa mémoire, mais il lui fallait de l’ordre, une méthode pour que ses pensées ne s’effilochent pas comme ces draps ternes qui lui recouvraient le corps. »

L’autre, jeune, valide, se pare d’une apparente solidité alors qu’en réalité, la fragilité se tisse dans les failles de son existence qui semble n’être portée que par ses souvenirs de famille avec son cortège de morts, d’emprisonnés, de torturés… Elle est une conscience troublée, meurtrie par les souvenirs douloureux de son passé.

Le roman met en scène des personnages tout en nuances, entre le blanc de la victime et le noir du bourreau, entre une vieillesse décrépite et une jeunesse vive s’étale toute une palette de gris, un camaïeu d’émotions.

Ainsi, la moribonde avec sa part d’ombre justifie les exactions de la dictature au nom de la maîtrise et du maintien du pouvoir à tout prix, par delà la mort et en dépit de rares réserves, elle continue à soutenir le Défunt sanguinaire, le Président à vie et son héritier de fils président. Ses propos sans cesse ponctués par le mot « ordre » affermissent sa personnalité. Cependant, l’autre face présente une femme qui fut un enfant abandonné, un enfant qui connut l’orphelinat et surtout ce fut une mère aimante qui défendit âprement ses enfants. Comme son mari, elle va peut-être mourir paisiblement dans un lit et l’infirmière, dans un perpétuel dialogue avec sa mère disparue, ne le supporte pas : « Malgré moi, je ne peux m’empêcher de rendre cette octogénaire invalide, pensionnaire à demi sénile de l’hospice, responsable de ta mort. » Pourtant, le récit qui présente cette jeune femme remplie de rancœur la montre aussi capable de ressentir de la compassion.

La mémoire aux abois déroule les deux histoires dans un jeu duel signalé par les titres des quatre chapitres (2X2 -rappel des 2 personnages-), le premier et le dernier étant en chiasme : L’héritière et la mère / La femme et l’héritière. Au fur et à mesure, le roman installe une tension dramatique, une puissance qui rappelle la phrase célèbre de Delgrès : « La résistance à l’oppression est un droit naturel. » Ainsi, quelque soit la férocité d’un régime, des hommes épris de liberté et de justice se lèveront, se dresseront pour que triomphent leurs idées. Evelyne Trouillot nous invite à lire l’histoire de Quisquéya (Haïti) à la fois de façon claire et dans les interstices et les blancs du texte. Pour ceux qui la vécurent ou eurent à la connaître, ils trouveront aisément les clés en mettant les vrais noms sur les lieux et les personnages fictifs du roman.

Un roman bouleversant dont on ne sort pas indemne.

-Nicole Brissac


Martin Munro, Edwidge Danticat: A Reader’s Guide. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010, 222p.

Martin Munro opens the introduction to this volume with a question: “when you go to a bookstore to look for something by Edwidge Danticat, which section do you go to first?” (1). Would it be Caribbean literature? African American? Ethnic? Women’s literature? The first part of the guide goes about answering those questions in different ways. Michael Dash examines Danticat’s connections to her Haitian precursors. Carine Mardorossian explores how Danticat fits in with other women writers from the Caribbean. She states that "[Danticat] thus deliberately develops a 'poetics of location' in which one's privileging of a particular and 'coherent' cultural space does not hinder Relation but provides the very condition for it. In this process of identification, the opposition between nation and transnationalism dissolves to reveal the inextricable imbrication of the two" (47). To me, this particular view of Relation is essential to understanding a work such as Danticat’s, or any work, for that matter. I remain wary of the idea that writers are beyond categorization. Although we may choose to ignore certain classifications at times, or not let them overshadow the text itself, they are always there, informing our readings. For Munro, "While this in-between situation may be seen as a loss of identity for Danticat (as for many other exiled authors), it is also a kind of liberation in that she is free from many of the constraints and expectations that direct, unambiguous attachments bring" (4). Yet, Munro himself acknowledges that Danticat does not consider herself to be an exile. She can and does go "home" whenever she wants.

The heavy-handed focus on the political in Nick Nesbitt’s chapter on Danitcat’s short fiction gave me pause. While there is no denying that there is a political dimension to Danticat's work, I feel there should be a greater difference between the way we talk about literature and the way we talk about journalism. Maybe I’m just old-school. But, if the focus of this guide is on literary analysis, I'd like to see some ideas about the actual writing of the text, not just how it fits into global politics.

Mireille Rosello’s chapter on Breath, Eyes, Memory focused almost exclusively on rape, which is interesting. Many readers have indeed identified that theme as the most important in the novel, but there is so much more going on in the text that I would have liked more exploration of some other topics. (There is a problem with the footnotes in this section, which is distracting.)

Kiera Vaclavik's chapter on Danticat’s fiction for younger readers was a real pleasure to read. She considers the question of who exactly Danticat is writing for with staightforward, solid literary analysis.

The writing in Myriam Chancy's chapter on The Farming of Bones was smart as her writing usually is. While I was a little skeptical of the idealistic spin put on Haitian/Dominican relations, I really appreciated the critique of the whole history is over movement in this chapter, because "the inhabitants of the former colonized nations are often forced to live in conditions that duplicate or mimic those of earlier centuries; for them, history is not over but is frozen in constant replay" (132). Not everyone has the luxury of forgetting history.

The book contains the thoughts of four fiction writers on Edwidge Danticat. The constant references to Martinican literature and culture in Maryse Condé’s piece baffled me. She refers to Aimé Césaire as the “founding father of our literature [...]” (163). Now, I do love Césaire as much as the next person, but many, many Haitian writers preceded him. How can he be the founding father of "our" literature? I love that Madison Smartt Bell is described as an African American writer in this section. I wonder if that’s a mistake or the way he identifies himself.

The last section of the book contains an interview in which Renee Shea talks with Edwidge Danticat about Brother, I’m Dying, other texts and just life in general. There is an intimate and profound feel to this interview that made me feel like I was in the room with the ladies, bonding over a good cup of coffee – and maybe some cookies!

Overall, Edwidge Danticat: A Reader’s Guide is a really enjoyable read. And I’m not just saying that because Régine and I were both involved with it. This is definitely a book that both fans of Danticat and those new to her work will want to get their hands on.



Create Dangerously:  The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat (Princeton University Press, 2010)

Edwidge Danticat’s most recent book Create Dangerously:  The Immigrant Artist At Work reminds readers that in addition to her numerous contributions to Haitian literature, Danticat is a meticulous and erudite cultural critic. As with her previous works of non-fiction After the Dance:  A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel (2002), Brother I’m Dying (2008),  Create Dangerousldisplays Danticat’s penchant for looking backwards and forward, exposing lesser known stories of Haitian history and offering new perspectives on ubiquitous historical and literary narratives.  What results is a book that weaves personal stories, political history, national loss, visual art, and literature together in seamless thoughtful patterns.

The title essay is adapted from the Toni Morrison lecture Danticat delivered at Princeton University in 2008.  Many of the other essays were partially featured in publications like The New Yorker, The Miami Herald, and The Progressive.  In Create Dangerously the author develops this earlier work and knits it together with familiar themes that she frequents in her novels like diaspora, remembering and forgetting, death, exile, loss and return. Danticat borrows the first part of the title of her essay and the book that follows from Albert Camus for whom “there are many possible interpretations of what it means to create dangerously…Camus suggests that it is creating as a revolt against silence, creating when both the creation and the reception, the writing and the reading, are dangerous undertakings, disobedience to a directive”(11).

Following this directive, throughout Create Dangerously, the reader can observe Danticat’s love for history and various forms of artistic expression.  She begins the book with a description of the public execution of Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin, the last members of Jeune Haiti, which she describes as her own creation myth that has obsessed her for years.  Danticat carefully treads over different versions and variations of creation myths.  In a heartfelt story about a visit to her Tante Ilyana’s home in the mountains, as well as a later one to visit her Tante Zi we learn how the author wrestles with her family’s impression of the stories she tells for a living.  In another chapter she goes back over the sad loss of the venerated radio journalist Jean Dominique and the national mourning that followed his assassination in 2000.  Clearly someone who created dangerously, she describes how Jean “expressed his opinions freely, seemingly without fear, criticizing groups as well as individuals, organizations and institutions who’d proven themselves to be inhumane, unethical, or simply unjust” (42).  But more than reflect on Dominique’s legacy as a radio journalist she also goes into detail about his contributions to Haitian cinema as another example of how the visual arts have political power.

We also meet Dominique’s daughter JJ, the writer who lives in Montreal and reflects on the complexity of reflecting her father’s legacy.   The younger Dominique’s story is related in the same chapter about Marie Vieux-Chauvet the first writer to explicitly render Duvalier in fiction through her novel Amour, Colère, Folie in 1968. But Create Dangerously is not a facile celebration of Haitian identity; in fact Danticat steadfastly speaks harder truths as well.  For example in a passage on national memory she writes, “Grappling with memory is…one of many complicated Haitian obsessions.  We have, it seems, a collective agreement to remember our triumphs and gloss over our failures” (63).  

Create Dangerously considers the act of writing as one of engagement, the age old question of committed writing that writers like Aimé Césaire and Jean-Paul Sartre have been debating since the Négritude Movement or that writers like Emile Zola have been debating since the Dreyfuss Affair.  In what sounds like a mandate for committed writing, Danticat writes: “Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is always what I’ve thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.  Coming where I come from, with the history I have—having spent the first twelve years of my life under both dictatorships of Papa Doc and his son, Jean-Claude—this is what I’ve always seen as the unifying principle among all writers” (10). But these political undertones do not undermine style at any point in fact the writing style and descriptions are as vivid and moving as Danticat’s fiction prose.

Create Dangerously exposes the reader to various forms of Haitian creative expression in the forms of writing (Chauvet, JJ Dominique), film (Jean Dominique), human rights advocacy (Alerte Bélance), photography (Daniel Morel) visual art (Hector Hyppolite, Jean-Michel Basquiat) and performance art (Assotto Saint).  Thus the book traverses different forms of cultural production and engages them from a perspective that reveal spiritual, historic, cultural and political insight.  The book pays homage to Haitian culture, offers important commentary on public events such as the flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and presents family history through visits from lòt bò dlo to connect to the homeland.  The final chapter “Our Guernica” responds to the most alarming tragedy in Haitian history, the earthquake of 2010.  In this chapter Danticat bares her soul, describing the personal and collective grief: 

“…shedding my reluctance to speak for the collective, this is what I felt I had to say…Haitians like to tell each other than Haiti is tè glise, slippery ground.  Even under the best of circumstances, the country can be stable one moment and crumbling the next.  Haiti has never been more slippery ground than after this earthquake…Now Haitian hearts are also slippery ground, hopeful one moment and filled with despair the next” (157).

These words ring resoundingly appropriate today, a few months after its publication when the presidential election results hang in a balance of uncertainty, Jean-Claude Duvalier’s resurfacing has agitated painful wounds of memory, and a million people are still displaced since the earthquake.  In Create Dangerously Edwidge Danticat takes the reader on a critical journey into what it means to use creative expression and innovation as a way of survival, introducing us to different Haitians who have done so, commenting on how art and survival intersect in Haiti.  Citing Camus, in the first chapter she writes “art cannot be a monologue,” with Create Dangerously Danticat once again contributes richly and beautifully to creating a dialogue that brings together art, literature, history and politics in a way that is challenging, honest and human (13). 



I recently read the short novel Violated by Guitèle Jeudy Rahill (First Books Library, 2011).  In the spirit of my post over the summer about making sure we cover the range of Haitians writing, I am including a review of the book here.  Because my current research focuses on the representation of sexual violence in cultural production, I was particularly keen to pick up a copy of Violated and have had it on my reading list for a while. Violated tells the story of the first protagonist Henri Berceuse, a man suffering from complexes as a result of his dark complexion and a trauma that haunts him from the past.  Early into the story we learn that his complexes are also related to his understanding of the sexual manifestations of power relations in Haiti during the occupation.   “Henri had determined long ago, with the American occupation of Haiti between 1915 and 1934, that he would do all he could to escape his blackness and the poverty it obliged” (10). Later on Henri explains the exact incident that led to this decision:  he witnessed the sexual violation of young Haitian boys by soldiers from the United States.  “Henri imagined that what the boys were experiencing was humiliating and painful…The soldiers were white and sporting uniforms.  Both factors were indicators of unquestioned authority on the small island” (12).   Shortly after Henri describes his past we are introduced to Peggy Pouchot, a woman who is also the victim of a sexual violence having been kidnapped and held as a sex slave.  “Two years before, in Port-au-Prince, she’d been approached by a man who had identified himself as a lieutenant and had commanded her to follow him.  She had done just that.  There was no disputing a man who looked so powerful.  It had been six months until her family would hear from her again” (19).   

In the context of my own research this book is compelling for what it tells us about sexual violence—that it occurs in a number of different ways by a number of different actors ranging from soldiers violating young Haitian boys (a scene that is eerily reminiscent of the rape of the young Haitian man in Port Salut perpetrated by members of Uruguyan MINUSTAH forces) to young women caught in unequal relationships in which they are forced to give sex in return to security and those caught in the drama of family incest and sexual abuse.  The wide range and nature of violations in the book serve as a reminder for how complex issues of sexual violence are even if the gendered power dynamics that underlie them are similar.  Rahill has taken on a difficult topic with Violated, and her writing style is simple, threadbare and straightforward.   Another main character who is the daughter of Peggy Pouchot and Henri Berceuse, Kasha, who is chronically mistreated by her stepfather Antoine and who eventually migrates to the United States where she continues to be abused (which again disabuses the myth of security offered by the US).   Her character is quite well developed, with a convincingly written and intimately rendered inner monologue.  Overall the book offers a prolonged and often jarring encounter with different narratives of trauma, their troubling manifestations and aftermath.  Thus Rahill's novel could be well read alongside other texts such as Chauvet's Colère, Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory or Mars' Saisons sauvages to name but a few. 

 People often ask me, as someone who works on representations of violence in Africa and the Caribbean, if I ever fear that my work will reinforce stereotypes about these populations as being more violent than others.  I imagine that this is the same question that someone would ask this author.  I found it fascinating that though Violated is a work of fiction, Rahill is a social worker and a professor at a university as well.   As such she may have a completely different answer to this question, but  I find that my answer more often relates to how the story is written, and the necessity for the survivors of sexual violence to be able to have their stories told with complexity, texture and nuance, no matter how difficult it may be to hear, see or read them.   Especially since sexual violence is an issue that is surrounded by so much silence no matter where you are from, it is important that these stories be told.  Guitèle Jeudy-Rahill has achieved a story about violation that attempts to explore it in a number of different ways and show the trauma that results in its aftermath.


Pierre Buteau, Rodney St. Eloi, Lyonel Trouillot, Refonder Haïti? Montréal: Mémoire d'Encrier, 2010, 399p.

Depuis le séisme qui a frappé Haiti le 12 janvier 2010, on ne cesse de parler de la reconstruction de ce pays, tant au niveau local qu'international. On évoque aussi sa refondation. Mais de quoi parle-t-on vraiment? Et qui doit participer à cette reconstruction ou refondation? Pour qui doit-on reconstruire ou refonder la nation?  Le livre Refonder Haïti? (le point d'interrogation a toute son importance!) publié par Mémoire d'Encrier à la fin de 2010 apporte des réponses à ces questions, en posent d'autres et se lancent sans réserve dans le débat sur les problèmes et solutions de la société haïtienne.

J'ai commencé à lire ce livre en décembre 2010. Je ne l'ai terminé qu'à la fin de l'été 2011. Il est dense. Certains textes sont mieux écrits que d'autres. Certains contiennent beaucoup de chiffres, qui ne sont pas mon fort, je l'avoue. Le livre contient aussi beaucoup de coquilles, ce qui est vraiment dommage. J'ose espérer qu'une prochaine édition sera corrigée car c'est un livre à ne pas rater. A mon avis, ce livre doit être lu par tous ceux qui se sentent interpellés par le discours de la reconstruction, surtout les étrangers qui viennent nous "aider". En fait, il y a toute une réflexion locale sur la société haïtienne disponible, qui malheureusement n'est pas souvent prise en compte par ceux qui détiennent pouvoir et/ou argent.

Les éditeurs se donnent pour mission de:

Interroger donc l'apparente incapacité du politique à socialiser à partir d'une logique cohérente et interne cette communauté. Interroger aussi les mécanismes d'exclusion, la reproduction systématique des inégalités, le fait culturel, la relation ville/campagne, le statut de la paysannerie, les rapports de classe, les formes et effets de la dépendance, les conditions de production de la richesse et de la pauvreté. Ce avec quoi il faut rompre. Ce sur quoi il faut s'appuyer pour une République d'équité et d'égalité citoyenne. (5)
Les contributeurs à ce volume sont nombreux et viennent d'horizons différents. Ils sont romanciers, journalistes, économistes, historiens, fonctionnaires, poètes et recteurs d'université. Parmi les thèmes qu'ils abordent: la place de la femme dans la société haïtienne, la situation linguistique du pays, la problématique de la couleur, la religion... Plusieurs essais mettent l'accès sur l'éducation, sur la nécessité d'une refondation du système éducatif pour une réelle amélioration des conditions d'existence de l'Haïtien moyen. Le volume contient aussi différentes considérations sur l’élite: certains la voient comme le problème fondamental de la société haïtienne, d'autres n'envisagent pas de solution sans sa participation. Par exemple, dans son texte en créole, Jean Casimir évoque deux catégories différentes d'Haïtiens et l'entre-dépendance qui les caractérise en dépit du clivage qui existe entre eux. Certains textes s'inspirent des différents moments historiques pour essayer d'analyser la formation de la nation haïtienne telle qu'elle existe le 11 janvier 2010, c'est-à-dire avant la date fatidique. D'autres comparent le 12 janvier aux autres moments historiques, pour montrer entre autres que l'après 2010 n'est pas le seul moment où on appelle à une reconstruction du pays, ou un tel redressement serait envisagé comme nécessaire. 

Dans l'un des premiers essais (ordre alphabétique oblige!) Pierre Buteau se penche sur le terme même de "refondation." Qu'est-ce qu'on entend par là? Pourquoi faudrait-il refonder la nation haïtienne? La réflexion de  Kettly Mars continue sur cette même ligne d’idées. L'essai co-écrit par Emile Brutus et Camille Chalmers montre que la présence de la MINUSTAH ainsi que les différents plans économiques proposés aux gouvernements   haïtiens successifs s'inscrivent dans une logique bien particulière et n'ont que très peu à voir avec l’amélioration  des conditions de vie de la population haïtienne. Je dois signaler ici qu'un bon nombre des articles de Refonder Haïti? se basent sur des chiffres et des statistiques précis; des références sont données quand approprié. 

Fritz Deshommes analyse le "Plan d'action pour le relèvement et le développement national d'Haiti." D'apres lui, "la méthodologie utilisee pour l'elaboration de ce 'Plan strategique' constitue un modele d'exclusion. Du national en général et des forces vives de la nation en particulier. Toute une pléiade d'experts, essentiellement étrangers, a été mise à contribution. La plupart des secteurs du pays ont été soigneusement évités, à part le secteur privé des affaires" (103-104). Comme Brutus et Chalmers, Deshommes montre que ce qui est proposé en guise de refondation n'est pas du tout nouveau, mais s'inscrit dans la lignée d'autres plans de développement pour Haïti (notamment le EERP de 1993, le CCI de 2006 et le DSNCRP de 2007, entre autres).

Une grande partie de l'essai de Deshommes est consacrée à l'analyse de la CIRH; il souligne le déficit de représentativité des Haïtiens au sein de cette structure. Il pose aussi la question suivante: "quel est le poids réel d'un Président de la République et d'un Premier Ministre haïtiens face à un ancien président américain et des représentants d'institutions financières internationales, tuteurs confirmés depuis des lustres?" (107). Deshommes nous rappelle que la CIRH fonctionne dans le cadre de la loi sur l’état d'urgence et est donc exempte de balises ou contrôle.

Rivière de la Grand'Anse/ Photo de Bruno Le Bansais
La contribution de Muscadin Jean-Yves Jason présente l’intérêt de nous livrer la pensée d'un maire en fonction. On a droit à sa vision pour sa ville, son pays, mais aussi aux obstacles auxquels il fait face. Pour sa part, le romancier Josaphat Large présente le département de la Grand'Anse comme un placement idéal pour une nouvelle capitale. Il est conscient de tout ce que ceci implique et considère des facteurs aussi variés que les voies interubaines, le système routier, les services medicaux et l’accès à l'eau potable.

Le volume Refonder Haïti? contient plusieurs considérations sur la participation de la diaspora dans la société haïtienne. Pour moi, l'une des trouvailles de ce livre est cette citation de Michel Soukar: "C'est l'occasion pour moi de rendre un hommage particulier à tous ceux de la diaspora qui n'ont pas attendu la reconnaissance de la double nationalité pour entreprendre des projets dans leur pays d'origine. On n'a pas besoin d’être président de la République, ni sénateur, ni député, ni magistrat communal pour aider à créer dans une bourgade un systeme d'eau potable, un atelier de mécanique, une école de couture, une clinique dentaire ou encore une boucherie, une usine, une plantation de bananes ou d'avocats en Haiti. il suffit d'avoir ce que vous avez et beaucoup de bonne foi" (321). Oui.

Si certains textes sont plutôt optimistes, comme celui de Gary Klang qui réclame une utopie poétique, d'autres contributeurs se montrent un peu plus pessimistes, ou réalistes, selon la perspective qu'on adopte. Ainsi, Jean Lhérisson de dire: "Certains imaginaient que le séisme du 12 janvier 2010 allait être le pretexte pour mettre en marche des grands changements. C’était sans compter sur la petitesse des dirigeants, eux-mêmes victimes, toute fonction confondue, toute souche confondue, toute origine confondue" (183).

En fait, beaucoup des essais de Refonder Haïti? partent des expériences personnelles de leurs auteurs, leurs expériences en tant que citoyens haïtiens, leurs expériences le 12 janvier 2010... Ainsi, le linguiste Lemète Zéphyr avoue: "Je cherchais partout les signes d'une quelconque puissance publique. J'écoutais la radio à mes heures libres ou au volant pour m'informer des grandes décisions de l'Etat, des consignes données à la population, des strategies de gestion de la catastrophe. Bref, je m'attendais à un discours d'Etat rassurant et visionnaire" (377). Comme beaucoup d'entre nous, il sera déçu. 

Avec une quarantaine de contributeurs, Refonder Haïti? nous rappelle qu'il y a des Haïtiens qui réfléchissent sur notre pays, que le faire n'est pas le domaine exclusif des gouvernements étrangers ni des ONGs. Il est à noter que la majorité des auteurs sont contre l'existence de la CIRH. Comment réconcilier ceci avec la position du Président Michel Martelly qui veut que cette structure soit reconduite?

En fait, les auteurs de ce volume s'impliquent activement dans la réflexion et dans l'action citoyenne. C'est un livre qui se lit, mais qui vit aussi. Ainsi, des conférences basées sur les différents essais sont proposés à l'Institut Français d'Haïti. Depuis le mois d’août dernier, une série de conférences basées sur les interventions dans ce livre a été lance au Centre Culturel Anne-Marie Morisset. A date, Lyonel Trouillot, Pierre Buteau, Michel Acacia, Jean-Hénold Buteau, Jean Casimir, Evelyne Trouillot et Emmelie Prophète ont pris la parole pour exposer leurs idées et échanger avec un public divers. Refonder Haïti? s'inscrit déjà parmi les classiques de la production intellectuelle haïtienne. Lisez-le. 

ContributeursMichel Acacia, Lody Auguste, Faubert Bolivar, Jean Marie Bourjolly, Émile Brutus, Jean Hénold Buteau, Louis Buteau, Pierre Buteau, Camille Chalmers, Jean Casimir, Magali Comeau Denis, Louis-Philippe Dalembert, Joël Des Rosiers, Fritz Deshommes, René Depestre, Joël Ducasse, Jean Armoce Dugé, Gaylord Esper, Muscadin Jean-Yves Jason, Gary Klang, Josaphat Large, Jean Lhérisson, Sabine Manigat, Kettly Mars, Claude Moïse, Leslie Péan, Raoul Peck, Kesner Pharel, Claude C. Pierre, Gotson Pierre, Samuel Pierre, Sauveur Pierre Étienne, Liliane Pierre Paul, Emmelie Prophète, Rodney Saint-Éloi, Michel Soukar, Hérold Toussaint, Evelyne Trouillot, Lyonel Trouillot, Michel Rolph Trouillot, Frantz Voltaire, Gary Victor, Lemète Zéphyr.  



Régine O. Jackson, Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora, Routledge, 2011, 317p. 

For many years now, there has been increased attention paid to the Haitian Diaspora -- they were declared the 10th department before Nippes was! (I guess now the Diaspora would be the 11th department? That doesn't quite have the same ring to it.) But what do we mean when we evoke the djaspora? Is the Haitian community in the Bahamas comparable to the one in France? Is Boston's Haitian community equivalent to that of the DR? And what of the nuances within each of the different groups?

When there is much talk about members of the diaspora helping Haiti, investing in Haiti, there is little discussion of  their capacity  to do so. The assumption seems to be that all djaspora are in a position to help their compatriots at home. Yet, that is far from being the case. Some diasporic communities are more in need of support from the home country rather than being in a position to provide it, yet they rarely seem to receive such support.

Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora explores and illustrates all of these issues. One of the things I most loved about the book was that it does not contain chapters on Haitian communities in Miami and New York City. Not that I have anything against those two cities, but there has been tons of research done on Haitians in those communities already, much of it stellar. And we should be wary of those two enclaves being seen as representative of the Haitian diaspora as a whole. Jackson's volume contains chapters on Haitian communities in the Bahamas, in the Dominican Republic, in Boston, in Guadeloupe, in Jamaica and Montreal. Just as there is incredible diversity amongst Haitians at home, so there is among the diaspora. They do not all speak the same languages, they do not all subscribe to the same religious beliefs, and they are not similarly integrated into their host societies.

The volume contributors are highly respected researchers in their fields. Apart from Margarita Mooney's chapter, which seemed to rely mostly on anecdotes, I was very impressed with the caliber of the research and writing. Samuel Martinez's chapter on Haitians in the Dominican Republic was rather depressing, but that was to be expected given the turbulent history between the two nations. I loved learning about Haitians in 19th century Jamaica. I have always wanted to visit Cuba, but Yanique Hume's chapter now has me even more intrigued. Part III of the book is entitled Diaspora as Metageography and the authors in this section stretch the meanings of diaspora beyond its traditional limits to include soundscapes and cyberspace, to cite only two examples.

I have been on something of a history kick lately. In the past two months, I've read Alyssa Sepinwall's Haitian History: New PerspectivesAvengers of the New World and Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois, and in spite of the many references to Silencing the Past in these texts, added Ti Dife Boule sou Istwa Ayiti by Michel-Rolph Trouillot instead. Regine Jackson's volume is a wonderful addendum to that list, showing how  historical processes  have impacted and continue to impact various  Haitian communities around the world.

This book did raise one question in my mind that is not specific to Haitian Studies: why in the world are research books so expensive? I would love to tell you all to run out and buy this, but I doubt you'll be able to afford it. The hardcover runs for $122.99 on Amazon, whereas the Kindle edition is $87.59. I hope you will ask the libraries you frequent to buy it, but it makes me wonder about editorial policies. Does Routledge really want people to read this book? The contributors to Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora have made many important interventions in the discussions surrounding Haiti, its diaspora, diaspora studies in general and identity politics (which is a topic we're visting a lot on Tande lately). It would be a shame if prohibitive pricing keeps this book from being more widely known.

ContributorsPaul Brodwin, Fabienne Doucet, Heike Drothbohm,Yanique Hume, Regine O. Jackson, Samuel Martinez, Elizabeth McAlister, Margarita Mooney, Angel Adams Parham, Ermitte St. Jacques, Nina Glick Schiller, Matthew J. Smith, Gina Athena Ulysse, Chantalle F. Verna, 



5 commentaires:

  1. This is a particularly captivating and interesting analysis.
    As you stated, a content-based review would have been more effectual, but I really didn't mind the political positioning of Danticat's work on the global sphere of literature. It's especially relevant to her role abridging contemporary generations with their origins and similar works.
    Beyond the thorough content analysis, the reviewer's evident knowledge of literary issues showed competence. Fairness did not lack in spite of the critical undertone, a sign of credibility. Both objective and subjective depictions of the Reader's Guide combined to excite the reader's curiosity. Challenging the factual basis of some of the claims made be the authors was a nice touch too.
    I think this process of identification, as it relates to Relation, characterizes the evolution of the "exiled author" reconciled with her inherent regional literary culture or doctrine. I agree this 'poetics of location' is not a deterrence to Relation. In fact, it transcends stereotypical tendencies to facilitate the so-called 'liberation' by broadening authors' horizons. The regional literary culture anchors in contextual understanding, without which, there would be a complete loss of identity. I also agree we should not ignore or deny certain classifications for obvious reasons. I didn't understand what Danticat's 'going home' had to do with her being an exile or not, but some would argue that I was being sarcastic :).
    Thank you for this comprehensive review.

  2. I'm glad you both enjoyed the review. Please come back to this page from time to time for more!

  3. Formidable! Votre blog est très intéressant. Merci pour cette initiative.

  4. Merci à vous! Et bienvenue!