Edwidge Danticat's short story from Haiti Noir 2: The Classics , "The Port-au-Prince Marriage Special," was included in Ms. Magazine 's Fall 2013 issue.
"A worthy sequel that skillfully uses a popular genre to help us better understand an often frustratingly complex and indecipherable society."
"There is danger and regret and fear in these stories, as characters try to negotiate a complex and often confounding land."
Miami Herald , Feature on Haiti Noir 2 Miami launch
"Presents an excellent array of writers, primarily Haitian, whose graphic descriptions portray a country ravaged by corruption, crime, and mystery....This selection of Haitian classics is a must read for everyone."
The Caribbean Writer
"Just when you thought you have read it all and have experienced the best of literary brilliance, there comes along an unrivaled work of narrative intensity, penned with a spellbinding authenticity. Haiti Noir 2 is just that work of art....A rare gem."
Kaieteur News Online
"Quite a collection...a multi-generational tour of Haiti's literature...It makes you feel as if some things out to have Part twos."
"This is a great collection of stories set in Haiti."
Praise for the original Haiti Noir :
"Danticat has succeeded in assembling a group portrait of Haitian culture and resilience that is cause for celebration."
"This anthology will give American readers a complex and nuanced portrait of the real Haiti not seen on the evening news and introduce them to some original and wonderful writers."
"While the publisher defines the term 'noir' broadlyrequiring sinister tales or crime stories that evoke a strong sense of place and do not have happy endingsthe Haiti book offers its own spin with plenty of grisly crime, dire poverty, and references to magic and religion. There is also some tenderness."
New York Times
Launched with the summer '04 award-winning best seller Brooklyn Noir , Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book.
Classic stories by: Danielle Legros Georges, Jacques Roumain, Ida Faubert, Jacques-Stephen Alexis, Jan J. Dominique, Paulette Poujol Oriol, Lyonel Trouillot, Emmelie Prophète, Ben Fountain, Dany Laferrière, Georges Anglade, Edwidge Danticat, Michèle Voltaire Marcelin, Èzili Dantò, Marie-Hélène Laforest, Nick Stone, Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell, Myriam J.A. Chancey, and Roxane Gay.
From the introduction by Edwidge Danticat:
"How often are you asked to put together an amazing literary party? In my case, a mind-blowing two times. The lit party of my dreams has been Haiti Noir , and lo and behold, I get asked to do it again...After the first Haiti Noir was published, people kept asking if I wasn't contributing to a negative image of the country by editing a book filled with so many 'dark' stories about Haiti. My answer was, and remains, that showing the brilliance of our writers and their ability to address Haiti's difficulties through their art can only contribute to a more nuanced and complex presentation of Haitian lives. After all, the writers here are not Haiti virgins, to paraphrase from 'Heading South,' Dany Laferrière's story, included here, of sex tourism gone wrong. They are all old hats, either by blood or their deep love for Haiti...This is not just a party, folks, but also a costume party, a noir party. The author of each story, poem, or novel excerpt has shed his or her skin and has sunk into the deepest and most revealing places of the human heart."
About the Author
Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the editor of Haiti Noir and author of several books, including Claire of the Sea Light, , Breath, Eyes, Memory , an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak! , a National Book Award finalist; The Farming of Bones , an American Book Award winner; and the novel-in-stories The Dew Breaker. She lives in Miami, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
PRAISESONG FOR PORT-AU-PRINCE BY DANIELLE LEGROSS GEORGESPort-au-Prince (Originally published in 1999) Cold kills slowly.
One moves and keeps moving until suddenly an arm grows dead then a foot falls off and the torso freezes as if submerged in chilled water, ice and swimmer forming a block.
It's a slow death, never red or yellow with guts hanging out and decay that spreads its blanket and birds that descend with feathers and beaks, and finally peace: efficient, spectacular.
You, city of the fast death, of the bloody coup, I bow to you. For you I cut flowers to put into a blue vase of cold, clear water.CHAPTER 2
PREFACE TO THE LIFE OF A BUREAUCRAT BY JACQUES ROUMAINBolosse (Originally published in 1930)
Translated by George Lang
Waking, Michel Rey watched the dirty day slipping in through the blinds. He smiled his own special smile — a sorrowful slit that drew his lips aside with two diagonal wrinkles — and faced the usual question: why smile at that dead light, at that room whose shabby furniture was his wife's pride and where there floated traces of strong perfume and the acrid rubber smell of his raincoat drenched in the shower that had caught him coming home at dawn, and which was still sweating the occasional drop of humidity ...
Seeing the little half-evaporated puddle dark on the floor, Michel smiled again. This time he knew why.
Five years ago ... he remembered the day he had returned to Haiti. The noonday sun beat down on a silent sea of smooth and crestless swells. He was filled with joy: in the anonymous crowd pushing and shoving up toward the bridge, in the visitors and porters, he recognized himself at last. He was a happy echo of this Black world, and he felt melting within him the ice shored up in Europe. What he bitterly called "The Great White Silence" (that racial gulf which friendship, loves, and contacts had never been able to bridge) began to disappear. Now he was among friends, his own people. He felt like kneeling to kiss that cherished soil.
The port danced before him in a mist of tears. His parents harassed him with questions as they carried him off toward town. He wanted to answer, but felt even more like escaping to walk alone in solemn ecstasy, like embracing the passing mango vendor: her fruit a queen's crown on her head, her back arched, her step certain, the ripe purple grapes of her breasts straining against the blue cloth of her coarse dress. Yes, he wanted to hold her tightly and say, "Sister." He wanted to take the tattered child holding out his hand to an American tourist, to draw him near: "Brother, little brother ..."
But a clock struck somewhere, and Michel returned to the present. It must have been late; his wife was already up and about. Weary, he rose slowly and began moving about the room, dressing and thinking of his past: I embraced life too strongly. I took it by the throat, strangled it ...
As he was finishing, someone knocked at the door. The servant entered, barefoot, eyes lowered; and with the respectable look of those who do make it to four o'clock Mass, announced that Mme. Ballin was downstairs waiting, yes.
The Widow Ballin is Michel's mother-in-law. He hates this woman swathed in yellow fat like rancid lard, in her funereal dresses that not even enormous cameos can brighten. Her tiny bony head, out of all proportion with her bulky body, and her wide thin mouth chopping out words like a butcher knife repulse him in a way the Widow Ballin would never understand. She is proud of her sharp face. When she refers to it, she has a droll but haughty way of saying, "I have overcome atavism." By this she means her features are no longer recognizably African. She is indeed the daughter of Mme. Ochsle, a brown-skin woman who married a German of poor extraction but of great recent wealth, and thereafter never stopped referring to "German ladies like ourselves ..."
Michel cannot stand the woman, but is moved at the same time by a vague tenderness toward her. He cannot get along without her. She is his revenge on that corrupt, hypocritical, stupidly bourgeois Port-au-Prince society which has ruined him, and of which she is an excellent example. He takes a malicious, exalting pleasure in wounding her, and can easily do so since the Widow Ballin — as superficial as they come — lends herself to it.
He knows his remarks are repeated in drawing rooms where the "Fates" of Turgeau and Bois Verna, assembly-line stiff in their 1880 corsets and blasted by bile, hold forth on the future of a young couple or the reputation of an honest man. And just knowing that his gibes are transmitted to all by the astonishing technique Haitians call télégueule makes him very happy indeed.
Michel Rey's hatred for his mother-in-law is perhaps the only feeling he has left to make his life bearable. He clings to it like a drowning man to a floating log; and if somehow the Widow Ballin were one day to die, he knows without a doubt that he would weep at her funeral.
Michel goes down to the drawing room without his jacket, wearing large old sandals. (His mother-in-law had proclaimed one day that it was "unaesthetic" to appear in shirt sleeves. She loved all words ending in "ic" and "ism"— words she was incapable of understanding, but which she thought distinguished.) She would be furious with him.
This in turn pleases him, because he still retains a touch of childishness, which is not a sign of innocence, but a holdover from a boyhood whose candor has long since passed. Basically, he is like those mistreated and battered kids, kept mischievous and lively by their youth, but whose sole pleasure consists of the dirty tricks which feed their bitterness.
The Widow Ballin spills over both sides of her chair. She has slipped her glasses up from her nose to her wide, low forehead. Michel, who has wished her good day, listens to her trivialities and examines her in detail. He feels she assesses the forces of each venomous phrase like a huge snake with glasses, coiled back upon herself waiting to strike.
"Jeanne isn't here?"
"You don't look at all well. You're working hard, aren't you? That's what they all say."
"My God, if they all say so, then there's no reason not to believe it."
"That's right. Everyone's waiting for your novel. It's supposed to be a masterpiece. You're working so hard on the documentation."
Michel keeps his silence.
"You've become more polite since, under the pretext of studying the Haitian soul, you began to visit the slums."
Her calls at Michel's are usually short. It is as if this fat woman comes to see him from time to time just to feel insulted by remarks which sting, but which she herself provokes.
"You're wrong on that count. It's not what I'm up to at all. I've been going there ever since that reception given by Monsieur and Madame Couloute, the uppercrust of Port-au-Prince elite. The straightforward seaminess of the slums compensates me for the rotten hypocrisy of those two."
"My son, this is really too —"
"Leave me alone!" Michel interrupts her. "You make me sick, all of you! I know what's beneath your slick surface, your aristocracy, etc., etc. The luxurious dress that hides the putrid flesh of the whore! I tell you I've had enough of your life. Your worldly whirl doesn't attract me. I haven't the least desire to live in a vacuum."
"Ah, it's easy enough to guess where you got those ideas! And to think I entrusted my poor daughter to such a creature."
"It would have been a better show, perhaps, to have married her off to one of those oh-so-fascinating well-bred gentlemen, guaranteed against any excess by a Tartuffe-brand safety valve. The ones I've had the dubious pleasure to come across in your drawing room: so seriously interested in charity and in the general progress of mankind, their hands folded in their laps with that touching gesture foreshadowing the day when they'll have become sector chiefs or members of the board and will only have to shift their arms a bit to twiddle their thumbs upon well-earned little paunches adorned by gold watch chains ... Yes, my dear Widow Ballin, why in fact didn't you choose such an exemplar — the dream of every Haitian mother — for your poor daughter?"
"They're a thousand times better than you!" she cries.
Her face, green with anger, sweats out an oily film. Michel looks at her curiously, wondering how such a dried-up face can secrete all that grease. "Well, then, they're not worth much, are they?" He gets up, pleased to have provoked such fury.
At loose ends, his mother-in-law shouts: "You have no respect at all! You are cursed!" And louder, like a prophet: "You will go to Hell!"
"Shit!" replies Michel heartily, and goes back to his room. But as other cutting remarks come to mind, he is sorry to have left so quickly. He decides to make up for it by going the very next day to the shopping district where his elegant mother-in-law has a flourishing hardware business.
He knots his tie, leaning at the window as before a mirror. Beneath this Bolosse cottage, the sea is spread out gray and dirty like a corrugated roof beyond the palm trees, those feather dusters that sweep away the rain.
This ocean view has for a long time left him unmoved. He now looks toward the sea with the eyes of a fisherman who regrets having run out of line. Something has snapped within him. Without it, how can he go in quest of that rare prey: enthusiasm?
Michel Rey thinks that from now on his life will be like that bitter, monotonous, watery to-and-fro. No great storms. He is sinking deeper and no longer has the strength to rise to the surface. His descent will continue slowly until the day when, stretched out on the bottom, human waves will stir him no more.
All that remains to while away his time until this final peace is insulting his mother-in-law, making his wife unhappy, and downing a rainbow of cocktails.
"Well, let us carry on with this absorbing day," he sighs, "by having a drink at Horatio Basile's."
The bearer of this Shakespearean name is a "young man from a good family" back in Haiti several months now from a stay in France, where he studied law. With five thousand francs a month, it is easy to flunk your finals. Horatio Basile failed the first time around and, a persistent sort, went on to fail again. Bréville Basile, a coffee speculator and a man of solid common sense, sent his son a check without the usual row of zeros, accompanied by an order to hop the first boat back home. Horatio tore himself from the arms of his girlfriend and took his leave (like a good Haitian) with several off-the-rack suits and a suggestive one-piece outfit as souvenirs. But he had hardly reached the Azores when the elder Monsieur Basile, showing a kindly spirit of which none would have thought him capable, passed away leaving his son thirty houses and around two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars earned in commodities and customs deals at Petit-Goâve.
The process of selling off several huge coffee plantations keeps the latter here — far from Place Pigalle — under our tropical sky, where he lives an idle, scandalous, and aristocratic life.
Physically, he exemplifies perfectly that sort of grimo Haitians call an "exaggerated mulatto": tall, thin, with a tapered face the color of our red water jugs and that always seem to be in profile, dominated by a low forehead and unruly red fuzzy hair. He has a neck like a bottle, along which rises and falls his large and pointed Adam's apple. Unbalanced and jerky, his hesitating walk and oversized feet which are too slow for the rapid movement of his arms make one think of a huge crustacean.
He has three passions: cars, record players, and Michel, whom he insisted on meeting after reading a manifesto of his — "Lamartine, Crocodile Poetry, and the New Afro-Haitian Literature" — in a review called The Assassinated Crocodile.
Michel amused himself immensely at their encounter, during which Horatio had said to him: "I understand you well, my good sir. We must destroy our weeping willows, the palm trees. We must from now on bear this scenery within us. Palm trees must no longer merely set the scene which makes us native. We must plant them, so to speak, in our very soul."
"Precisely," Michel replied, deadly serious. "But we must never overlook the African drum which is made, as you know, from the skin of asses."
Then, having charmed the heir of Bréville Basile, he passed by every day at noon for cocktails chez Horatio and, toward the end of each month, borrowed rather considerable sums of money from him.
"Hello there, Horatio."
When Michel came in, Horatio was dancing about among a buffet well-stocked with flasks and cocktail shakers, a huge divan, and nine different gramophones all arranged in a row by size, like children in family pictures.
He was very drunk. His nose was shiny. In his eyes a flame flickered uncertainly, a fire the dampness of alcohol would soon extinguish.
All the gramophones were going at once: coffee mills grinding the black beans of depression.
Michel went from one to the next and, with the quick gestures of a father meting out discipline, stopped each one. They went silent, like good children.
"Idiot!" he says, pouring a tumbler full of Manhattans and smiling contemptuously.
Horatio tries to fix his eyes on the confused and staggering world within which Michel alone stands upright, preparing a second drink in the midst of that new miracle: the multiplication of gramophones.
His tongue has the greatest trouble unsticking itself; but finally, with an overwhelming English accent, he says: "Whyyyyy?"
His eyes half-closed, Michel drinks: each swallow is like a spider jumping toward his brain and drawing in the tangled threads of his thought.
His glass empty for the fourth time, he speaks: "Have you ever seen a peasant girl come down the wine-red zigzag paths of our hillsides? She passes among leaning banana trees torn by the wind, musky mango trees heavy with the honey of their fruit, baobabs through whose branches stir garlands of parasites, and the sacred mapous with their tentacular roots. She moves like a tightrope dancer, her bust high and her arms swinging, her wide hips swaying dolce armonioso. Sometimes her hard foot strikes a stone, and it skips down the slope decrescendo. Music! Music! Music!
"In front of a hut, I saw a brute beating his wife with a stick in a measured drummer's rhythm; and his victim kept time and danced and sang and shouted out in her pain.
"In Amsterdam I saw two Black acrobats, naked savages really, hanging from a trapeze like a sixteenth note. The music stopped, powerless. Their bodies wet with sweat, their nervous legs and the solid arms where the ropes of their muscles tightened were already a magnificent and insolent psalm to life.
"When they came down from their heights and smiled, their native souls played on the keyboard of their shining teeth.
"But you, Basile, are an idiot, an insensitive ass ..."
He stops. What giant droning insect zigzags through the sudden silence? Horatio, stretched out on the sofa, is sleeping with his legs apart. His wet lips open and close, trapping and freeing the buzzing bees of his snore.
Jeanne was waiting in the modest dining room. He saw her dark, sad eyes.
"Mother told me ... oh, why, Michel?"
She is soft and plaintive. He caresses her hair. Will she ever understand, my God, the horrible self-hatred which makes me torture the ones I love?
"Oh Michel, Michel, how unhappy you are."
He rocks her.
"My little one, my little one."
"Michel, listen ..."
He calms her with a gentle touch. His two children seated on a palm-straw mat play at cutting out pictures from a mail-order catalog. They do not look alike. What strangers they seem! When he tries to take them in his arms, they cry.
This is his prison: this sad house. And the bars of his cell: his wife who cannot understand, his children who fear and refuse to love him.
The whole of his future life rises up before him like a narrow horizon, like a thick screen behind which life — real and vibrant life — lies hidden beyond his reach.
Ah, is it possible that this could be his irremediable fate: to grow old and gray, broken in body and soul, sitting in this cheap and ugly room by a steaming kettle and an old and fattened mate?
Inside, a sharp taunt tears at him: "The whole future, waiting for rheumatism."
This time it is she who consoles him with a luke-warm embrace.
He leans against her shoulder, almost won over, and lets tender persuasion take the upper hand.
He gives himself over to a cowardly voice which repeats: Yield, yield. Yield to that calm current. Those who win out are the ones who know how to cultivate the cold and unfeeling patience of flotsam. Do not be ashamed to fail: it will lead to a normal sort of happiness. Besides, is it not absurd to pit your tiny flame against the infinite flood of life? You remind me of the madman who tried to ignite the sea with a match. Who are you, anyway, to want to win? Just look around you, and disgust will overwhelm your faint heart. For a while you were drawn to politics, but you were never more than a puerile demagogue. You thought you were a man of letters, and still do: you've written manifestoes, poems, and one book that no one reads. You're a pitiful petit bourgeois, only too aware of your ugliness and your impotence. This clear picture you have of yourself is your only merit. The day your fellows stop deluding themselves, they too will revolt; and the world will suddenly be filled with herds of superb and bitter malcontents who take themselves for unrecognized geniuses.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Haiti Noir 2 The Classics"
Copyright © 2014 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Part I: Hunted/Haunted
“Praisesong for Port-au-Prince” by Danielle Legros Georges (Port-au-Prince, 1999)
“Preface to the Life of a Bureaucrat” by Jacques Roumain (Bolosse, 1930)
“A Strange Story” by Ida Faubert (Turgeau, 1959)
“The Enchanted Second Lieutenant” by Jacques-Stephen Alexis (Bassins-Coquilleaux, 1960)
“A White House with Pink Curtains in the Downstairs Windows” by Jan J. Dominique (Kenscoff, 1996)
“Oresca” by Paulette Poujol Oriol (Source Diquini, 2001)
“Children of Heroes” (excerpt) by Lyonel Trouillot (Place des Héros, 2002)
Part II: Seduced
“Remember One Day” by Emmelie Prophète (Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, 1999) “Rêve Haitien” by Ben Fountain (Pacot, 2000)
“Heading South” by Dany Laferrière (Kaliko Beach, 2006)
“Three Letters You Will Never Read” by Georges Anglade (Quina, 2006)
“The Port-au-Prince Marriage Special” by Edwidge Danticat (Delmas, 2008)
“True Life” by Michèle Voltaire Marcelin (Rue des Miracles, 2008)
Part III: Losing My Way
“I Just Lost My Way” by Èzili Dantò (Anba Dlo, Lan Ginen, 1997)
“The Mission” by Marie-Hélène Laforest (Bonair, 2002)
“Barbancourt Blues” (excerpt) by Nick Stone (Pétionville Square, 2007)
“Dame Marie” by Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell (Dame Marie, 2007)
“Surrender” (excerpt) by Myriam J.A. Chancy (Port-au-Prince Central Prison, 2010)
“Things I Know About Fairy Tales” by Roxane Gay (Cité Soleil, 2011)
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Or is it the first editor but has his story included? Neither way avoid noir bored