The good: This classic of Caribbean literature is set
before, during, and after Haiti’s independence. It’s an early example of
magical realism, somewhere between historical fiction and voodoo-inflected myth*.
I found the whole thing pretty interesting in terms of understanding the
Haitian national identity.
The bad: I
decided to read this in Spanish, and about two pages in I thought: I’ve made a
The problem is that the book is in Cuban Spanish from
before 1950, and I only speak Dominican Spanish from the mid-90s. Even though
Alejo Carpentier died in 1980, he really should have worked this out. Also, the
skips in time can be confusing on first read.
Carpentier works at creating a sense that shifts in
power and the passage of time mean little to the always replaceable, and always
exploited, Haitian peasant. It can all become wearying**. That the main
character, Ti Noel, is going to end up in basically the same place he started
is a foregone conclusion. Plus, Carpentier emphasizes the crushing oppression
of the colony and later the Republic by stripping him of a lot of his
individuality, which can also make the novella hard to stick with. Still, it’s
a beautiful book, and well worth the effort. VOODOO!!!
*I feel like putting voodoo in a book is like putting
a chase sequence in a movie or hot pepper flakes on pizza. Instead of being a
Historical Novel it’s a Historical! Novel! Goat sacrifice on page six! Someone
will definitely turn into a lizard!
Obviously, I read this book for the man-lizard.
**I mean who wants to read a tragedy that just stays
that way!? Ew! I hoped there was going to be a party and everyone was going to
pull a goat out from under their seat, like on Oprah. And then they would be
like MOVE THIS BUS! and the Citadelle Laferriere was going to be a swiss chalet
with a hot tub. But I digress.