Haitian Book Club: Memoir of an Amnesiac by Jan J. Dominique

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Welcome to another edition of the Haitian Book Club. Today’s selection is Memoir of an Amnesiac by Jan J. Dominique (Caribbean Studies Press, 277pp), translated by Irline François.

Memoir of an Amnesiac is intriguing just for its title. For the first thing that comes to mind is: how exactly will the pages of the memoir of amnesiac look like. Will there be some blank pages? Some paragraphs that read like they’re missing a preceding one?

The text of Memoir of an Amnesiac reads rather smoothly. The narrative goes back and forth between the hacked memories of Paul (called Lili) and her present life. It’s also the story of a little girl, who longs for the guidance and presence of a father, a father whose absenteeism is not wholly purposeful but is provoked by a repressive time in their homeland. Of the fear and paranoia that is her life, Lili writes: “The man in black was someone whom everybody knew, but who was not be named.”

When Lili goes to live in Canada, all the years of being afraid, of censoring even one’s own inner thoughts are behind her, but her paranoia isn’t. She throws herself into activism, into the nurturing of her daughter Maya, and begins the long-delayed process of healing past wounds inflicted by exile.

The fact that the author of Memoir of an Amnesiac is the daughter of Jean-Léopold Dominique, the renowned radio broadcaster who was gunned down in 2000, lends this special context to the book.

The cover art for the book, conceptualized by Ralph Allen, is very striking. It almost looks like a Salvador Dali painting, and is fragmented, has partial deletions just like the memory of an amnesiac.

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