4 Haitian novels that beautifully blend history, memory and reality


Marlene Daut, University of Virginia

Following the July 7, 2021 assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse and after one Haitian official requested that the U.N. and U.S. send troops to help stabilize the nation, many Haitian activists and artists recoiled at the prospect of yet another outside intervention.

The Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat is one artist who has repeatedly railed against past U.S. occupations of Haiti. In her foreword to Jan J. Dominique’s “Memoir of an Amnesiac,” she highlights a tension that exists in Haiti’s collective memory – pride over the revolution for freedom and independence from France in 1804, and frustration over continuous foreign meddling, brought to a new height with a 20-year occupation by the U.S. military starting in 1915.

“Never again will foreigners trample Haitian soil, the founders…declared in 1804,” Danticat writes. “Yet in 1915, the ‘boots’ invaded,” which meant that Haitians like the father of the narrator in Dominique’s tale would “never truly know a fully free and sovereign life, having had not just his country but his imagination invaded and occupied by the Americans.”

A specialist in Haitian literary and historical studies from the University of Virginia, Marlene L. Daut has selected four Haitian-authored novels that sit with this contradiction, along with many others.

By guiding readers through Haiti over the past century, she shows how these contemporary writers magnificently paint the entanglements of memory, history and imagination that make Haitian art, from all times, so enduring and brilliant.

1. Évelyne Trouillot, “Memory at Bay” (2010)

In “Memory at Bay,” Trouillot explores the ruthless juxtaposition that exists between Haitian President-turned-dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, called “the Deceased” in her novel, and Haiti’s subjugated position in the Western world.

Many years after the death of Duvalier and the fall of his successor and son, “Baby Doc,” the Deceased’s bedridden wife tries to cast her husband as both a protector of the Haitian people and a target of the West’s quest for revenge.

“After all, how could the Western countries ever forgive or forget Napoleon’s debacle, the sorry defeat of the French army … and the rout of the French colonizers at the hands of an army of former slaves?” the Deceased’s wife thinks. The widow attempts to paint her husband as having been the only one to stand up to the “former colonialists, the one-time occupying power, and all those who wanted to use the country as a springboard for their ambitions.”

Government officials carry a casket.
After Francois Duvalier, known as ‘Papa Doc,’ died in 1971, his son, Jean-Claude, took power, continuing the family’s brutal reign.
Reporters Associes/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The attendant caring for her in a nursing home in France has a different memory of the Deceased and his legacy. Coming from a family devastated by the Tonton Makouts – Duvalier’s murderous henchmen responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Haitians – the nurse finds herself disgusted at having to care for an integral culprit in her country’s devastation.

“So many overlooked stories of men and women just guilty of having been alive at the wrong moment, in the wrong place,” she thinks, as she briefly contemplates whether to kill the widow. “My father, my uncle, the resister whose grandchildren will never know him, Madame So-and-So’s husband, the grocer’s cousin, his friend’s godfather, the mother of the little girl who will not be born, the boy who should have been born.”

2. Dany Laferrière, “Down Among the Dead Men” (1996)

Set in 1996, after the fall of the Duvalier regime and during the United Nations’ occupation of Haiti, this partly autobiographical tale tells the story of a never-named protagonist – a stand-in for Laferrière – who decides to come home to Haiti for the first time in 20 years.

Haiti has changed a lot during his exile in Montreal, where he was making his living as a writer. He no longer recognizes the capital, Port-au-Prince, which has seen massive migration from the countryside into the city. The result is overcrowding, famine and generalized misery.

In a chance encounter with a shoeshine man, the narrator is told that these changes mean “All the people you see in the street, walking and talking, most of them died a long time ago and they don’t even know it. This country has turned into the world’s largest cemetery.”

Such commentary encourages the narrator to write a book about “the other world.” He wonders “[i]s it here or elsewhere?” After unwittingly accepting from a powerful Vodou priest “the most terrifying offer anyone could make a writer: to take him to the kingdom of dead,” the narrator meets in succession the Vodou god Papa Legba, master of the crossroads, and Ogou Feraille, the god of war.

Ultimately, the narrator ends up as disappointed with the spirit world as he is with the mortal one. “This was hardly Dante’s inferno,” he remarks. “I’d been expecting…a universe so powerful and rich in symbols, so complex that it would have helped me… Instead, I ended up with a giggling adolescent goddess and the complaints of her father, the supposedly fearsome Ogou Feraille.”

All of this happens parallel to searing political commentary about the punitive and insulting measures forced upon Haiti by the world powers after the 1991 military coup that unseated President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. For example, along with U.N. “peacekeepers,” a comical cast of foreign investigators arrive to study why the people of the northwestern town of Bombardopolis do not need to eat for months at a time. The foreigners conclude that it is because they are all plants, and not human beings.

The irony of course is that foreign meddlers are the ones who have caused the starvation. “Hunger remains the most effective weapon,” one character wryly remarks.

Sometimes the sardonic humor stings a little too much: “When everyone starts joking in a country, you know that all hope is gone,” the narrator’s friend Manu complains. “Humor is the weapon of desperate people.”

3. Edwidge Danticat, “The Farming of Bones” (1999)

In this work of historical fiction, Danticat transports readers to the Dominican Republic, to the border town of Alegría. There, Haitian workers are living “a cane life” – engaged in the brutal work of planting and cutting sugar cane, “travay tè pou zo, the farming of bones.”

Hewing closely to the historical record, Danticat captures the horrors of Dominican dictator General Rafael Trujillo’s massacre in 1937 of tens of thousands of Haitians living and working along the border. The more fictional sections follow the escape of Amabelle Désir, who had many years before witnessed the death by drowning of her parents, both migrant herbal healers, as they tried to cross the Dajabón River separating Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Amabelle will eventually lose her lover, Sebastien Onius, to the troops of the “Generalissimo,” after Trujillo gives orders “to have all Haitians killed.”

A man stoops over next to a cart.
A Haitian migrant worker cuts sugar cane in the Dominican Republic.
Julio Etchart/ullstein bild via Getty Images

As Haitian characters are tortured or executed because they cannot trill their Rs to pronounce “perejil,” the Spanish word for parsley, Haiti’s glorious revolutionary past seems to fade into the background of the torturous present.

“When Dessalines, Toussaint, Henry, when those men walked the earth, we were a strong nation,” one man who escaped the massacre states. “Those men would go to war to defend our blood. In all this, our so-called president says nothing…nothing at all to this affront to the children of Dessalines, the children of Toussaint, the children of Henry; he shouts nothing across this river of our blood.”

4. René Depestre, “Hadriana in All My Dreams” (1988)

Near the end of “The Farming of Bones,” a guide taking visitors to King Henry’s famous Citadelle says, “Famous men never truly die…It is only those nameless and faceless who vanish like smoke into the early morning air.”

Beginning in 1938, just one year after Trujillo’s massacre, Depestre’s “Hadriana” trails the life, death and reemergence of a white French woman born in Haiti named Hadriana Siloé, who appears to mysteriously die while saying her wedding vows. She is then suspected of having been transformed into a zombie when her body goes missing from its grave.

During her funeral-turned-carnival, historical figures from different eras join the masked wake, as “historical memory” has gotten “mixed up to the point of ridiculousness.”

And so readers are treated to scenes of the Haitian emperor Jacques the First, who ruled Haiti from 1804 to 1806, playing table tennis with his partner, Joseph Stalin, while Venezuelan freedom fighter Simón Bolívar dances alongside King Henry Christophe, who became king of northern Haiti in 1811.

“This masked occasion had convoked three centuries of human history to [Hadriana’s] wake,” her childhood friend Patrick says. They “had come together to dance, sing, drink rum, and refuse death, kicking up the dust on my village square, which, in the midst of this general masquerade, took itself for the cosmic stage of the universe.”

In the end, it is not just history but all of life that appears to be one large carnival as the contours of death come alive on the streets of the living.

This tale has a happy ending, though. Decades later, Hadriana is revealed to be alive after all and describes how she miraculously escaped from the botched attempt to turn her into a zombie. She even gets married, not to her original fiancé but to Patrick, who has chronicled all that took place in her absence.

The true romance here may be that unlike so many of those who have disappeared in yesterday’s and today’s Haiti, Hadriana and Patrick live to tell their story.

[Over 109,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]The Conversation

Marlene Daut, Professor of African Diaspora Studies, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

8 ways business managers can use fiction to prepare for the uncertain reality of coronavirus


It’s a brave new business world, so turning to novelists can help explore possible future scenarios.
(Shutterstock)

Nada Elnahla, Carleton University and Ruth McKay, Carleton University

Reading fiction has always been, for many, a source of pleasure and a means to be transported to other worlds. But that’s not all. Businesses can use novels to consider possible future scenarios, study sensitive workplace issues, develop future plans and avoid unplanned problematic events — all without requiring a substantial budget.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many business leaders have learned how important it is for businesses to consider a wide range of possible outcomes and to enhance organizational adaptability. Relying on analyzing or projecting trends and extending what business leaders usually do is no longer enough to assure future success. When management is poorly prepared for the unexpected, businesses start getting into trouble.

Scenario planning, therefore, helps businesses keep themselves flexible and move quickly with market shifts. Scenario planning is a series of potential stories or possible alternate futures in which today’s decisions may play out. Such planning can help managers assess how they or their employees should respond in different potential situations.

How businesses can use novels

Unfortunately, scenario planning requires time and resources. And depending on its use, such as for an investigation, budgeting or legal matters, it can also require collecting sensitive data. That can include employees’ personal experiences of sexual, discriminatory or psychological harassment, suicide, mental health, drug abuse, etc.

The more sensitive the needed data is, the more difficult it is to collect while ensuring employee privacy. This is where literary texts come in.

A person reading at a table.
Novels can offer creative insight and wisdom to business managers.
(Helena Lopes/Unsplash)

As sources for possible future scenarios capable of providing strategic foresight, or producing alternative future plans, novels can also help businesses create dialogue on difficult and even taboo subjects.

Novels are, therefore, capable of helping managers become better, providing them with creative insight and wisdom. Science fiction can provide a means to explore morality tales, a warning of possible futures, in an attempt to help us avoid or rectify that future.

Brave new business world

Our research
uses Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World to explore possible scenarios related to situations that are usually kept confidential, such as employees’ mental health issues and drug use or abuse. We examined how employers encounter uncertainty around the impact that legalizing cannabis could have on the work environment, and ways to consider such potential effects.

Brave New World is set in a dystopian future and has been adapted numerous times, most recently into a 2020 TV series. It portrays a dystopic civilization whose members are shaped by genetic engineering and behavioural conditioning. Their happiness is maintained by government-sanctioned drug consumption. It is a world where countries are protected by walls that keep the undesired away — an eerily familiar scenario to Donald Trump’s promise of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

'Brave New World' book
Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World.’
(Shutterstock)

By reading the novel, business managers can compare the world we live in today and the path our countries and corporations are on to the fictional events in the novel. This can help them pay attention to and address less comfortable, and sometimes often neglected, sensitive workplace issues that need to be considered when planning for the future.

For example, in Brave New World, the consumption of the drug “soma” becomes the norm upon which life is founded. When soma is taken away, individuals can no longer face their reality and they end up welcoming death.

Brave New World offers workplace leaders a look at what could happen if employees’ wellness, mental health or drug use are disregarded, and lead to isolation, absence, resignation or, in dire circumstances, suicide.

8-step action plan

To study sensitive workplace issues that could help generate new knowledge, lead to envisioning ways to act appropriately and develop future strategies, business managers can follow these steps:

  1. Form a team of managers and an HR representative who is aware of company policies and ethics protocols, and is in direct contact with employees.
  2. The team then decides which workplace issue(s) the organization needs to study.
  3. The team chooses a literary text, such as a novel, that discusses those issues.
  4. Each member of the team reads the literary text on their own before discussing it together in at least one session.
  5. The team researches the chosen workplace topics inside the organization and outside (for example, laws and regulations related to each issue).
  6. The team identifies insightful sections.
  7. The team analyzes the chosen extracts.
  8. The team writes a report with recommendations on workplace conditions and how best to improve them.

Reading has surged during lockdown. But literary works can provide us with more than a leisurely pastime. For businesses, novels represent a legitimate way to study the workplace, and this is accomplished by comparing the path our countries and corporations are on today to fictional events.The Conversation

Nada Elnahla, PhD Candidate, Sprott School of Business, Carleton University and Ruth McKay, Associate Professor, Management and Strategy, Sprott School of Business, Carleton University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Article: Are Higher Prices a Possibility?


The link below is to an article that suggests higher prices may be the new reality following the recent ebook pricing lawsuit settlement. Could that be the new reality? What do you think?

For more visit:
http://www.teleread.com/ebooks/agency-pricing-settlement-higher-prices-on-the-way/

Article: Being A Librarian


The link below is to an article that looks at what it is like to be a librarian. The reality may sound a bit different to your perception.

For more visit:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeedshift/career-confidential-a-librarian-deals-with-creeps

Article: Book Publishing Reality


The link below is to an article reporting on the current state of book publishing and is a very interesting read.

For more, visit:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bj-gallagher/book-publishing_b_1394159.html

Changing the World: November 11 – Peace for a Moment


Today’s suggestion for changing the world was doing something to support peace. The suggestion encouraged people to spend a moment to reflect on what I could do to prevent war.

In reality there is probably very little that I can do to prevent wars from occurring. It is once again a noble goal – to prevent war and ensure peace. I just don’t think it will be possible in this world.

The other part of the suggestion was to remember those who have fought and died in wars, especially with this being Armistice/Remembrance Day. Where I work the flags were lowered leading up to 11 am. They were raised again shortly afterwards.

Being that I was working I was unable to observe the 2 minutes silence at 11 am. However, the sacrifice made by those defending our way of life and seeking to return the world to peace, were on my mind.

Anzac Day is going to be an event I will be involved in in future years – not in any official capacity, but to be at the local dawn service to remember those who fought for this country, including various family members.

A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton

Changing the World: November 9 – Foundations for Change


 

Today’s suggestion for changing the world was to get involved in Foundations for change. The suggestion was to set up a foundation or to try and get involved in one, perhaps by becoming a trustee/board member.

Hmmm, there are of course many foundations that one could possibly get involved in. You have a very wide choice, from environmental causes, to health and medical foundations, educational foundations, etc.

I have a very personal reason to get involved in a foundation and that in relation to diabetes research. My most important friend has severe diabetes and died very young. I have a small online memorial set up for here at:

http://respectance.com/Rebecca_Therese_Morris

I have a strong desire to set up some sort of foundation to help raise funds for diabetes research. I have no idea if this desire will ever eventuate into a reality – but it is something I will never forget about wanting to do at the very least.

Some day – some how – some time. That is what I want to achieve here.

For another foundation type idea have a look at this site:

http://www.youthbank.org/

This seems like a good idea – doesn’t appear to be such a thing in Australia.

A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton