I still can remember the first time I ever heard of Marie Vieux Chauvet. It was from reading Dr. Myriam J.A. Chancy’s study of Haitian literature by women entitled: Framing the Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women. I think that for sure I may have read briefly about her in Léon François Hoffman’s survey of Haitian literature, and J. Michael Dash’s book, Literature and Ideology in Haiti, 1915-1961, and perhaps didn’t notice. While I’m on the subject of Chancy, I will also say that I’m eternally grateful to her because before I read her book, I had no idea that there were so many women Haitian writers. To me that book is a great contribution to Haitian women’s literature, though it’s just a survey. Nadine Magloire, Yanick Lahens, Madame Virgile Valcin, better called Cleanthe Desgraves, Annie Desroy, all were introduced to me by Framing the Silence.
Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Triptych is translated from the French by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokur, and the translation, as far as I can tell is outstanding. Nothing seemed amiss. I must say that I’m extremely grateful to those two as well, and the Vieux estate for making this English translation possible, and to make it accessible to so many of us. And thank you Modern Library Classics.
Edwidge Danticat wrote a rather gracious forward. I’m sure she feels a lot of gratitude towards Vieux Chauvet, who in a way, paved the way for Ms. Danticat. I’m sure she views her as an inspiration.
Reading the book put me in quite a state. A state of fear, it’s like classic horror, but the bogeymans were all visible. I had read on Haitiwebs.com about how Marie Vieux Chauvet (to self: I wonder if she’s related to the CaRiMi singer Carlo Vieux), and how she went into exile, how her family had her books burned for fear of reprisal from the government, because, really she was denouncing the 1960s-era Duvalier government in thinly-disguised plotlines even though in the narrative she set her story decades before. In the first book (Love), Claire Clarmont (a rather ironic name, considering that Claire means light in French), a dark-skinned Haitian born into an elite Haitian family consisting of mulattoes and near-white relatives, feels isolated and unloved, but facing the tyranny of a dictatorship gives her the strength she needs to affirm her identify. In the second part of the trilogy, Rose Normil, the beautiful daughter of one of Haiti’s most powerful mulatto families allows herself to be sodomized by a police chief to save her family’s land from governmental pillagers. I almost couldn’t muster the gumption to read the last novella Madness, the story of Réné, the political prisoner, who’s being starved and terrorized in a prison cell, along with other dissidents.
I felt horrified throughout the time I was reading the novellas in this trilogy. What a way to live. I felt the pain of Rose’s family; I felt Claire’s frustration, the agony of the Normils, as the family maid who was secretly envying their lifestyle and their wealth, betrayed them.
I couldn’t help but notice a lot of anti-black Haitian sentiment throughout the novel. The police chief in Anger doesn’t have a name, but is referred to as the Gorilla, and in the narrative his African features are constantly put in derision. But I try to understand that it must not have been pretty for people to be victimized because of their skin color.
I understand from reading the books Written in Blood by Heinls clan, The Breached Citadel by Patrick Bellegarde, that up to the 1950s, there was no black middle class in Haiti. And that one of the things that occurred during the late-50s and up to the 1970s, was an incessant persecution and purging of the fair-skinned middle and upper class to make way for the Haitian black middle class. But why did one color need to be wiped out to make place for another. Coexistence wasn’t possible? SMH.
If you’ve read this book, kindly share your thoughts on it. If you can help it, try to stick to general storylines, so as to not spoil the plot for others who have yet to read it.