Art & Culture
Eight of the Best Books Written by Haitian Women Authors
A Haitian woman at Pic Macaya
Photo: Tyler Welsh
Women’s voices form an increasingly important part of world literature. And Haitian women authors have not stayed behind in this regard - here is a selection of their most brilliant works.
Women’s voices form an essential part of contemporary literature, with an increasing number imposing themselves on the international literary scene. Poets, novelists, essayists, and theorists, these women writers never fail to deliver when it comes to creative genius. Haitian women writers have refused to remain on the sidelines in a male-dominated environment.
We've rounded up eight of the most brilliant books by Haitian women authors to make room for on your bookshelf.
Love, Anger, Madness by Marie Vieux-Chauvet
Here is a novel that critics won’t stop praising anytime soon. Leading to its author’s exile from Haiti, Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s Love, Anger, Madness (Amour, colère, folie) was immediately banned by the political regime in place when it was published in 1968. A trilogy in one volume, the novel follows three sisters; Claire, Félicia, and Annette, all of whom live under the dictator Duvalier’s authoritarian regime. Each of them corresponds to one of the words in the title, and each will see their family fall apart in this tragedy.
This novel is considered one of the most beautiful in modern Haitian literature. For Haitian-Canadian author Dany Laferrière, Marie Vieux-Chauvet possesses “the clear and pure voice of a lucid and unshakeable novelist.” If you want to begin stocking your library with literature by Haitian women writers, you’ll do well to start with this remarkably well-written, must-read novel.
The Colour of Dawn by Yanick Lahens
A common theme of Haitian literature is the imprint left by the many political crises and repressive regimes the country has faced. Fortunately, they haven’t managed to stifle the voices of our talented Haitian women writers. Yannick Lahens is one of the most brilliant examples of this creative genius and an expression of the certain attachment an engaged writer feels to their homeland.
Published in 2008 (by Sabine Wespieser), The Colour of Dawn (La couleur de l’aube) tells the story of a Haitian family facing a political crisis, misery, and violence. Fignolé, the youngest of the siblings, doesn’t come home one night while bullets are raining down on Port-au-Prince. His mother and two sisters, each with their own unique temperament, set out together to find him.
The Colour of Dawn is an example of dark poetry that casts its shadow on Haiti, this country that Yanick Lahens has cherished so much and that remains ever-present in her work. By the novel's end, you’ll be particularly touched by the unique talent of this exceptional author, who was awarded the RFO Book Prize in 2009 for The Colour of the Dawn.
Savage Seasons by Kettly Mars
No better work can follow the latter novels mentioned than this remarkable book by Kettly Mars. Attesting to the dark moments of oppression and suffering experienced by Haitian families during the Duvalier dictatorship, Savage Seasons (Saisons sauvages) tells the story of Nirvah. To save her husband, who is imprisoned at the infamous Fort Dimanche, Nirvah must offer up her body to the then Secretary of State.
Savage Seasons testifies poignantly to an era deeply rooted in Haitian memory. It’ll surely strike you with its gritty realism.
Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
In this curious tale, Edwidge Danticat surprises us with the confession delivered by the main character, who, from one day to the next, goes from executioner and torturer to prey. He gives us an incredible account of the lives he has destroyed and seen ruined.
The protagonist saves himself from the populist purge thanks to the love of a woman and her daughter. However, he’s constantly confronted by ghosts of his past that stick to him and prove challenging to get rid of, despite being in exile.
This novel is a remarkable testimony to the forceful nature of memory. It recalls a time of repression and totalitarianism that will undoubtedly touch your soul as a reader.
Guillaume and Natalie by Yanick Lahens
In reading this surprising love story by Yanick Lahens, it’s easy to get caught up in the eroticism that emanates from the unusual couple at the heart of the novel. The author admits that she’s always wanted to write a love story. Still, despite the muted sensuality that emerges at the start, our two lovebirds are quickly brought back to the reality of their city and country. This narrative helps create a compelling and authentic-feeling love story.
Taking place the day before the 2010 earthquake, Guillaume and Natalie offer a taste of local Haitian color. Without resorting to fatalism, Lahens tells us the love story of a fifty-year-old sociologist and his encounter with Natalie, a thirty-year-old whose love for Haiti brings her back home after years of absence - and despite the wounds, she carries from her time there.
Not only is it a story of love between a man and a woman, but Lahens’ novel is also about the love they each have (in their own way) for the country that they love and share. A captivating book that’s a must-read for lovers of Haiti and people looking to get acquainted with the country and its literature.
The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
The brilliant pen of one of Haiti’s best women writers, Edwidge Danticat, often transports us back in time and, through memory, allows us to experience past moments. Her second novel, The Farming of Bones, takes us back with vigor to one of the darkest periods in the history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic: the parsley massacre (Masak nan Pèsil)).
This novel is not only in the service of memory, however. It tells the remarkable love story of an orphan named Amabelle and a Haitian sugar cane cutter named Sebastien.
Amabelle is taken in and raised by a Dominican family as a young girl and becomes their servant. Meanwhile, the situation of Haitians changes drastically following the rise of the dictator Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Amabelle manages to escape the bloody Persil massacre, but at what cost? This book marks a powerful tribute to the voices of those silenced, and reveals Danticat to be one of our most poetic writers alive.
Moonbath by Yanick Lahens
Moonbath (Bain de lune) is one of Yanick Lahens’ best-known books. Centered on Haitian peasantry in the town of Anse Bleue, Lahens’ novel tells the story of a young girl who is found washed up on the shore. In reading Moonbath, you’ll be immediately plunged into a whirlwind of colors and scents, a true kaleidoscope of scenes infused with the poetry of popular Haitian beliefs.
Love, lust, Haitian peasantry, Vodou, and struggles for power: are all found in this cleverly composed novel, which won Lahens the prestigious Femina Prize (Prix Femina) in 2014.
Breath Eyes Memory by Edwidge Danticat
You’re likely to enjoy this sensitive tale spun by Edwidge Danticat. It’s the story of love and conflict that unites Sophie and her mother, who had not been in her life for her first twelve years. When Sophie leaves to join her mother in the United States, she must confront her contradictory feelings, including the fact that she has always considered her aunt to be her actual mother.
Danticat builds this moving story around traditional maternal figures and the obsession with preserving virginity and “female purity.” In it, we have a variety of compelling characters: Grandmother Ife, whose blessing must be sought; Martine, who finds herself with a child whose face reminds her of ghosts from the past, but whom she nonetheless tries to protect; Atie, the aunt, who injects all of her feelings of motherhood (for better or worse) into Sophie, who lies at the heart of this magnificent novel.
Just like our enchanting landscapes, historic forts, white sandy beaches, and colorful museums, the literature of our most brilliant Haitian woman authors is worth discovering. So, don’t hesitate to add this unique collection of titles to your reading list today!
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