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  • Forging Ahead: Recollections of the Life and Times of Esther Dartigueby Esther Dartigue and John Dartigue
  • Grace L. Sanders Johnson
Forging Ahead: Recollections of the Life and Times of Esther Dartigue. By Esther Dartigue and John Dartigue. CreateSpace, 2014. ISBN 1477595902. 482pp. $14.50 paperback.

In 1994, educator and activist Esther Dartigue published An Outstanding Haitian, Maurice Dartigue: The Contribution of Maurice Dartigue in the Field of Education in Haiti, the United Nations, and UNESCO. In so doing, she successfully wrote her deceased husband and former Haitian Minister of Education, Maurice Dartigue, into the modern history of Haiti. Esther’s work has been widely cited in the literature on post–US occupation [End Page 216]politics, education, and international organizing and has enhanced recent scholarship in the field, most notably Millery Polyné’s From Douglass to Duvalier: U.S. African Americans, Haiti and Panamericanism, 1870–1964(2010) and Chantalle Verna’s forthcoming work Haiti and The Uses of America, 1930–1957. In a 2007 article Verna aptly argues, for example, that Maurice Dartigue was “the leading educational reformer during the two decades following the U.S. occupation.” 1Much of what we know about Maurice Dartigue’s legacy is credited to his wife’s tireless combing through his personal papers and related archives in order to bring his vision for Haiti to a broader audience. Yet, until now, little has been known about Esther herself—the assiduous mother, scholar and, on select occasions, orator who used historical prose to combine “her two great passions, [Maurice] and Haiti” (v).

Her memoir Forging Ahead: Recollections of the Life and Times of Esther Dartigueprovides insight into Esther’s life, her love of Haiti, and her contribution to the Dartigue family. Esther conceptualized Forging Aheadas a family history for her only child, John, and started writing the details of her childhood, marriage, and the first decade and a half of son’s life in the mid-1990s. However, due to fatigue and illness, she was unable to complete her autobiographical project. Inspired by his mother’s commitment to their family’s genealogy, John Dartigue picked up where his mother left off and narrated the final fifty years of her life using childhood memories, stories from family and friends, and a meticulous mapping of Esther’s personal calendars, letters, and daily notes. Forging Ahead, then, is both a memoir and a biography, with the first part primarily written by Esther Dartigue and the second part written by John Dartigue. As a companion piece to Esther’s first book, Forging Aheadis foremost a family conversation—a love letter to those individuals and places that Esther cared for dearly.

Forging Aheadis an unconventionally written “collection of remembrances” (vii) sometimes connected and other times appearing in the tangential and fragmented ways that memories float to and recede from our forethoughts. With a narrative cadence that reads like an oral history, the text is not ordinary in structure, scope, or genre, as John Dartigue warns the reader from the outset. At several points he even suggests that the text may not be of interest to a general audience and that some readers may find it useful to skip certain parts. And yet, while a reader who is not familiar with the Dartigue family may be tempted to pass over the litany of surnames and addresses, readers will likely find themselves continuing to read out of curiosity and expectation that one of those names casually mentioned may be of note: Résia Vincent, Jacques Roumain, Madeleine Sylvain, Jacques Stephen Alexis, or Rafael Trujillo. [End Page 217]

In this regard, Forging Aheadis at once a genealogical dig, an archival hunt, and a geographical odyssey. The book is divided into fourteen chapters that chronicle the near century of Esther Dartigue’s life—from her birth in Hungary and early adolescence in the United States to adulthood in Haiti and Central Africa and through her death in France. The first three chapters are detailed accounts of Dartigue’s poor upbringing in Hungary and young immigrant life with her family in Ohio. Cataloging the quotidian events of her early years, including eating customs, clothing, chores, and...