- Memory at Bay by Evelyne Trouillot
Evelyne Trouillot is a well-known and well published writer from Haïti. Memory at Bay is her fourth novel, published in French in 2010 by hoëbeke [End Page 156] under the title La Mémoire aux abois. The novel received the 2010 Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe et du Tout-Monde. Prior to Memory at Bay, Trouillot published four volumes of short stories, two volumes of poetry, including one in creole, three novels, two books for children, a play, an essay, and several literary articles. Her first novel, Rosalie l’infâme, the tale of a female slave’s resistance in pre-revolutionary Haiti, published by Dapper in 2003, garnered a lot of attention. So did La Mémoire aux abois, set in France, years after the fall of the Duvalier regime. (François Duvalier governed 1957–1971 and his son Jean-Claude Duvalier 1971–1986).
The novel is composed of four chapters: “The Survivor and the Mother,” “The First Lady and the Schoolgirl,” “The Wife and the Orphan” and “The Woman and the Survivor.” In each chapter, two voices alternate: the interior monologue of a young nurse, Marie-Ange, whose father was “disappeared” by the Duvalier regime, in the first person and addressed to the narrator’s mother. The other voice, in italics, conveys the inner thoughts of Odile Doréval, former wife of Haïti’s dictator — a literary imagination of Simone Duvalier — in the third person. The book is provocative in that it proposes two different female narratives of the Duvalier period and its impact not only on people who lived through that period in Haiti (surviving victims, witnesses, perpetrators) and the diaspora but also on their descendants.
Marie-Ange lost her father in 1980, under the government of Jean-Paul Doréval (standing for Jean-Claude Duvalier), and subsequently immigrated illegally to Martinique by boat and later as a young adult to France proper. Marie-Ange does not narrate only her own memories about the “Doréval son” period and her subsequent exile. She also recounts her mother’s memories of growing up under Fabien Doréval (for François Duvalier) and the traumatic legacy that Marie-Ange’s mother transmitted to her, with her pain at losing her beloved older brother to the dictator’s repression. While Marie-Ange never knew her uncle, his ghost haunts her mother and Marie-Ange describes in detail how she was affected by the disappearance of a person she never met and events she never witnessed. One such occasion is related to an attempt at kidnapping Jean-Paul Doréval and his sister, which resulted in an unprecedented repression culminating with the razing of entire houses and the killings of entire families, including infants. This event is still vividly present in Haitian memory and has appeared in several texts, for instance in Un Alligator nommé Rosa (2007) by Haitian novelist Marie-Célie Agnant.
Another example is the 1964 murder of two Haitian men who led a group of dissidents against the regime. In Trouillot’s novel, Lionel Dubois and Marc Noisin stand for Louis Drouin and Marcel Numa, who were publicly executed. Because their bodies were left to rot in a public square as a deterrent, and schoolchildren forced to attend the execution, this event has left indelible marks on Haitian’s consciousness. It is also evoked by several Haitian writers such as Jan J. Dominique in Memoir of an Amnesiac (1984 for the French version), and Edwidge Danticat in Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (2010). Marie-Ange recollects several similar moments of oppression witnessed by her [End Page 157] own mother, by herself as a child, thus weaving a history of repressed collective memory.
Marie-Ange’s monologue starts chapters 1 and 3, while Odile’s Doréval interior monologue starts chapters 2 and 4, each voice alternating within each chapter. While the dictator’s widow is vaguely...