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Un Cri Lola by Bonel Auguste (review)

From: Journal of Haitian Studies
Volume 19, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 221-224 | 10.1353/jhs.2013.0022

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The novella Un Cri Lola marks Bonel Auguste’s first foray into prose fiction. A recognized poet who is highly praised by Haitian literary critics, Auguste belongs to a new generation of Haitian writers that emerged in 2000. A bilingual writer navigating between Haitian Kreyòl and French, he is now shifting from poetry to prose. Yet he does this in an unconventional manner reminiscent of André Breton’s surrealist novel, Nadja. While Un Cri Lola is categorized as a novel by the publisher, I feel strongly that it is instead a prose poem about an elusive female character, Lola, whose presence and absence dominate the narrator’s life.

A Love Story?

Are they lovers? There is both an intimacy and a distance in their relationship. Lola visits the narrator in his apartment, brings him lunch, moves around freely, and even makes suggestions for interior decoration (17, 22, 37–38). But it is not a balanced relationship, given the narrator’s admission that he has never set foot inside Lola’s house: “Lola ne m’a jamais invité chez elle, mais elle connaît tous les recoins de mon appartement” (22). He indicates that they seldom kiss, only for birthdays or other formal occasions (24). Yet he offers an extremely sensuous description of Lola’s body (15, 17), sufficiently precise to indicate an intimacy that is otherwise denied: “Lola et moi ne sommes qu’une épure de couple, une hypothèse amoureuse” (49).

If the relationship between Lola and the narrator is to be considered as the focus of interest, then it is an elusive one as his world revolves around her presence or absence (another similarity with Nadja). Lola is an overpowering figure in his life and thoughts. Her opinions, her decisions, her casual manner when she is with him seem to pervade his imagination. In addition, since Lola is an aspiring psychologist, the narrator’s actions and emotions are subject to her scrutiny and interpretation (15). As a result, his identity is defined by Lola’s pronouncements, although he manages to hide from her the torture he suffers as screams explode in his brain.

The World According to the Word

The narrator’s obsession with Lola sends him on a literary quest for creative works referring to “Lola” in their titles or text, from Nabokov’s Lolita to Jacques Demy’s film Lola. As he delimits his literary itinerary, he crafts a tale about the reappropriation of words. Through the habits of his protagonist, Auguste hints at the secrets of the poet as a scribe first, then a composer. Several references come to mind. First, when the protagonist shares his habit of writing down in notebooks the poems or other texts that he particularly likes, he reminds us of Jorge Luis Borges’s Pierre Ménard, who rewrites Don Quixote and in so doing becomes the true author of the book. Closer to home, he also reminds us of Danticat’s character in the story “Seeing Things Simply.” As Auguste’s narrator retraces the letters that the poets wrote when creating their poems, he evokes Danticat’s depiction of a would-be painter who does her apprenticeship by walking around in the boots of her instructor.1 Like these two authors, Auguste reminds us that creation starts with imitation. There is a magical ritual at work when his copyist retraces the words of his illustrious models and, by this imitative gesture, ingests these words and makes them his own:

Je tombe sur des vers d’Antonin Artaud que j’ai écrit à la main. Il y a des vers un peu partout à la maison, dans les tiroirs, les coffrets, au chevet du lit, dans les toilettes . . . je recopie les vers que j’aime à la main pour me mentir à moi-même, me donner l’impression que c’est moi qui les ai écrits.

(33–34)

Il me vient à l’esprit des vers d’Aragon que j’ai recopiés à la main sur un bout de papier pour me mentir, me donner la sensation que c’est moi qui les ai écrits, ou que moi aussi je pourrais les écrire. Ah, que je suis bête!

(62)

The Brazilian notion...


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