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  • History, Humanity, and the Literary Construction of Haiti in Évelyne Trouillot’s Works
  • Jason Herbeck (bio)

Évelyne Trouillot’s novels, short stories, poetry, children’s stories, and play—not to mention her interviews, op. ed. pieces, and academic articles—introduce us to chapters of Haiti’s history spanning roughly two hundred and fifty years. From a plantation in the former French colony of Saint-Domingue during the 1750s to present-day, postearthquake Haiti, the experiences, trials, and tragically haunting memories of her characters serve to bring into focus countless rifts in the country’s complex and often conflicted past. Despite the turbulent time periods in which we discover these protagonists, and the resulting adversity to which they are prone, their struggles are not waged on battlefields; nor do they lead to conspicuous positions of power befitting heroines or, alternately, to the imprisonment or execution of would-be martyrs. For as quintessential as the Vodou ceremony of the Bois Caïman, the decisive Battle of Vertières, or the notorious Fort Dimanche are to understanding Haiti’s past, Trouillot’s characters have not (yet, at least) appeared at the forefront of these or other similarly iconic places and events in the country’s history. Instead, they emerge in what might be considered the chambres interdites of Haiti’s past—places that have remained closed, hidden, or merely overlooked within and by the country’s dominant historical narratives.

Akin to the eponymous “forbidden room” in the author’s first published collection of short stories, the far corner of which, concealed by curtains, “invaded [the young narrator’s] dreams, covering them with a clammy fear which flowed over [her], redolent and warm,”1 the settings of Trouillot’s works provide opportunity for confronting what has been described as the institutionalized [End Page 7] silencing of history.2 In effectively opening the door to elusive recesses of the country’s past, her narratives are recounted on a human scale—not that of nations and institutions—that as a result challenges the traditionally hegemonic, authoritarian discourses of and about Haiti and its people. Whether it be with respect to the colonial French empire, the influential policies of the United States (including embargos, both occupations and the temporary protected status designation), the political and economic grip of private international businesses and NGOs, the decisions and actions of Haitian leaders, or the so-called “discourses of disaster”3 involving Haiti, the trepidations, hardships, and determination of Trouillot’s protagonists constitute subtle yet consistent counter-narratives of suffering, struggle, and survival. “We need memories to build ourselves [. . . into] stronger human beings,” Trouillot has affirmed, adding: “Fiction can help us endure our fears.”4

As a means of imagining under-represented groups whose voices have been all but lost in the folds of history, Trouillot divulges their perspectives and stories in the most unexpected of spaces: under a flapping blue tarp tied over the back of a pickup truck transporting clandestine passengers to the Haitian-Dominican border (Le Bleu de l’île); in a backyard under the night sky, on a roughly hewn star-gazing platform (Le Mirador aux étoiles); in a newly refurbished gingerbread house, as seen through the reluctant eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy whose parents have decided to leave Boston and return to Haiti to live in the centuries-old structure that has been in their family for generations (“Ma Maison en dentelle de bois”); in the seemingly secure confines of a four-wheel drive Honda weaving through the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince (Le Rond-point); in the muted room of a bedridden woman living in a Parisian nursing home (La Mémoire aux abois).

As unanticipated or out of the ordinary as the settings of Trouillot’s stories might be, her works do not privilege a unique perspective or narrative. Instead, alternating focalizations or narrations consistently frustrate claims of consensus and frames of reference. In “Le Détour,” when a woman takes a wrong turn and finds herself in a rundown area of the nation’s capital, far off the beaten path of her comfortable lifestyle, her anxiety is just as soon countered by the bitter indignation of a man who...


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pp. 7-10
Launched on MUSE
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