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Reviewed by:
  • The Other Side of the Sea by Louis-Philippe Dalembert, and: Memory at Bay by Évelyne Trouillot
  • Toni Pressley-Sanon
The Other Side of the Sea. By Louis-Philippe Dalembert. Translated by Robert H. McCormick Jr., with foreword by Edwidge Danticat. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014. ISBN-10: 0813936470. 121 pp. $22.50 paperback.
Memory at Bay. By Évelyne Trouillot. Translated by Paul Curtis Daw, with afterword by Jason Herbeck. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015. ISBN-10: 0813938090. 152 pp. $24.50 paperback.

The Other Side of the Sea, by Louis-Philippe Dalembert (2014), and Memory at Bay, by Évelyne Trouillot (2015), are two of the latest additions to the growing list of translations of Caribbean and African literature from French into English through the University of Virginia Press’s CARAF Books series. I echo writer Edwidge Danticat who, in her foreword to The Other Side of the Sea, remarks that she is very grateful for this development (vii). Indeed, it is quite a gift to have these two stellar examples of Haiti’s rich and powerful literary tradition now available to English-speaking readers.

The novels are haunted by the specters of three critical moments in Haitian history: the nineteen-year occupation by the US marines, the Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic in 1937, and, most strongly, the reign of terror orchestrated first by François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and [End Page 204] then by his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. The two narratives are equally poignant, penned as they were by masters of the literary form.

Louis-Philippe Dalembert, the author of a number of literary works of diverse genres, was born in Haiti in 1962 in the midst of the Duvalier regime, and spent his childhood and early adulthood under its shadow. The Other Side of the Sea is his third novel. First published as L’Autre face de la mer in 1998, it is related by three primary voices: Grannie, her grandson Jonas, and an omniscient narrator. The narrative is an extended meditation on the multiple meanings of the Haitian expression lòtbòdlo—the other side of the water—which refers not only to lands or countries on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean but also to the divide between life and death. The novel reaches back in Haiti’s distant history and memory to a time when Africans were imported to the land as enslaved workers and connects this period to the theme of twentieth-century exodus that drives the narrative. As such, while ostensibly focused on the story of Grannie and Jonas, the text takes a long-view approach to the political, economic, and environmental reasons for and repercussions of the migrations/exiles and deaths that haunt it.

The first narrative voice is from Grannie, nicknamed Noubòt (new boat) because of her childhood love of watching boats arrive and depart from the docks near her home and imagining their stories. Although she never travels abroad, the name stays with her as a reminder of her youthful innocence: the time before “the tragedy” (19), as she later names the massacre in the Dominican Republic that she and her family fled. Recalling her time in the DR and the trauma associated with it, she remarks: “The trouble with this story was not so much the bitter experience nor the other language over there that made us feel more like foreigners. It was rather staying on the same land. In short, to not really have left” (32).

Jonas, the other narrative voice, also relates his and, by extension, Grannie’s story in the first-person. Whereas Grannie’s narrative is dominated by her childhood experience of living in and fleeing the DR, Jonas’s story is preoccupied with the migrations of friends and neighbors under the Duvaliers. Couched within his narration of both forced and “voluntary” migrations is the story of Jonas’s parents, who dared to speak out against the regime. In fact, at certain points in the novel it is not clear which state of traveling lòtbòdlo is being referenced—emigration or death. For example, while dropping off his girlfriend, Maïté, at the...