Dark Stories Illuminate Haitian Culture.
TAGS: Edwidge Danticat, Akashic Books, Haiti, noir fiction, neo-noir fiction
Editor Edwidge Danticat, herself an acclaimed writer of works like Krik? Krak! and Breath, Eyes, Memory, describes the gathering assembled for Haiti Noir 2: The Classics as an “amazing literary party.” It’s an interesting description for a collection of darkly-themed stories, but ultimately an apt one.
Continuing in the tradition of the first Haiti Noir, and the entire noir series first introduced by Akashic Books with Brooklyn Noir, Haiti Noir 2 assembles a who’s who of Haitian authors. What results is an interesting view of Haiti through eyes and voices that know it well. Three sections, titled “Haunted/Hunted,” “Seduced” and “Losing My Way,” are used to group the selections, with each touching different aspects of Haitian life. The expected themes of Vodou, poverty and political unrest are woven throughout the cultivated tapestry, causing it to seem as though the stories are talking to one another, each informing the world of another and casting a light that wouldn’t be seen if each had been presented on their own.
Many stories hit their mark, providing both intrigue and interesting protagonists. The first and oldest story in the collection, Jacques Roumain’s “Preface to the Life of a Bureaucrat,” follows a man who fancies himself an intellectual but has become bitter and venomous as his career prospects point in a different direction. Then there are the two stories that truly hit the “noir” mark: Lyonel Trouillot’s “Children of Heroes” and Ben Fountain’s “Rêve Haitien,” which both coincidentally (or not) use Port-au-Prince’s Champ de Mars as a backdrop. “Children of Heroes” focuses on a young brother and sister that are left to their own devices in the aftermath of a brutal yet inevitable event. “Rêve Haitien,” on the other hand, tells of an outsider who is drafted into revolutionary action after a chance game of chess leads to an unexpected friendship. The final story, Roxanne Gay’s harrowing “Things I Know About Fairy Tales,” views a kidnapping through the eyes of the victim and gives a rare look into how the trauma of being kidnapped and abused can indeed change a person indelibly.
Though a fine collection of work, one can’t help but wonder why some stories were invited to the party. In curating the collection, Danticat played broadly with the definition of “noir.” For every story that had visceral grit and darkness, there were others which came off as simply ghost stories and more--including Danticat’s own contribution, “The Port-Au-Prince Marriage Special”-- that seem to be better suited for non-themed short fiction collections. That being said, as an anthology of some of Haiti’s best fiction, Haiti Noir 2 is a look beyond what is typically known of the country, giving the reader a sense that they’ve eavesdropped at Danticat’s party and came away with the best tales.
Donte Gibson is a writer and editor who currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. He has written for Inc. magazine and the Black Web Media's Young Black Professional Guide, and for the websites Okayplayer, Black Web 2.0, and Politic 365. Currently, he serves as Senior Editor for the music and culture website SoulBounce.