- Un-silencing Resistance: A Trilogy of Dictatorship Novels by Évelyne Trouillot, Kettly Mars, and Marie-Célie Agnant
Marie-Célie Agnant, Évelyne Trouillot, and Kettly Mars are among Haiti’s best-known contemporary fiction writers. Within the past seven years, each has published a novel representing women’s lives during dictatorial rule, particularly during the Duvalier regime. Évelyne Trouillot’s La Mémoire aux abois (2010), Kettly Mars’s Saisons sauvages (2010), and Marie-Célie Agnant’s Un Alligator nommé Rosa (2007) present with harrowing intimacy their protagonists’ emotional lives during and after the fall of dictatorship in Haiti. These novels redefine national historic identity in terms of the personal, depicting the poignant and tormenting process of their protagonists’ decision-making under the oppression of dictatorship.
Agnant, Trouillot, and Mars turn their protagonists’ everyday lives into epic tales of national history. Their fiction combines facts particular to Haitian history with characters whose stories reveal the commonality of human experience. In focusing on individuals’ stories, these three novels evoke problems beyond the violence of dictatorship alone. Their narratives highlight a nuanced and gendered depiction of this period in Haitian history. By showing the agony of individuals as they face the power and violence of the dictatorship, the authors emphasize the individuals’ resistance.
Recognizing resistance as an integral part of Haitian history is crucial: not just during the revolution of 1804, but also in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Particularly in the aftermath of January 12, 2010 and the current UN occupation, Haiti and its people have been stripped of their humanity in favor of a media portrayal that focuses on poverty, destruction, powerlessness, and corruption. These three novels, although written (if not published) before the earthquake, resist such portrayals of [End Page 227] Haiti. Instead, they insist on its people’s humanity. The authors narrate personal histories of resistance during and after the Duvalier years, making the novels at once particular to Haitian history and also evocative of more universal human problems. In narrating their protagonists’ resistance, Mars, Agnant, and Trouillot also write against the way dominant Western discourse has historically represented Haitians, especially Haitian women.
In Kettly Mars’s novel Saisons sauvages, Nirvah Leroy is faced with raising her two teenage children alone after her husband Daniel is imprisoned for his role in the resistance movement against François Duvalier. Her decisions are made under traumatic circumstances, with her and her children’s survival always at peril. The dictatorship violates Nirvah’s life and she searches for meaning in the face of disturbing violence. Her reaction is physical when she realizes for the first time that she is powerless to protect herself against the dictatorship: “L’alarme dans mon ventre. Il sait que Marie et Nicolas sont partis chez ma mère. Sa question anodine n’est qu’un rappel de son omniprésence dans ma vie, de son pouvoir sur nos vies. J’ai soudain peur, il sait aussi que je suis seule dans la maison, à sa merci” (89).
The narrative structure of the novel is complex, as is typical of Mars’s finely wrought corpus of novels and short stories. For the first half of the book, the chapters vary between the first-person voice of Nirvah Leroy, a third-person voice following the Sécretaire d’état Raoul Vincent, and the journal entries of Nirvah’s imprisoned husband Daniel as she reads his journal alone in her bedroom at night. Much later in this book, without warning, the first-person voice begins to alternate between Nirvah and her teenage daughter Marie. The reader never hears the narrative voice of her son Nicolas. His resonating silence suggests that of a generation of young people whose innocence and future were unjustly impacted by...