Three stories about Haiti that place women at the forefront.
Seghers (Stone Age, 1977, etc.) was a German Jewish writer who fled Hitler’s regime in 1933. In exile, she wrote a few novels about escapees from Nazi prison camps. They’re smart, politically savvy books, with all the drama and pacing of good thrillers. Unfortunately, Seghers’ last book, published in 1980 and now appearing in English for the first time, doesn’t live up to her early work. These stories are about Haitian women; each piece takes place in a different century. An erudite introduction by the scholar Marike Janzen insists that Seghers is giving voice to the voiceless, placing Haiti at the forefront of revolutionary history. That’s all well and good, but the stories themselves tend toward condescension. In the first, Toaliina, a young woman, dives from a ship that is attempting to transport Indigenous Haitian women to Spain in the 15th century. She hides out in a cave, where she is joined by her husband, Tshanangi. Then Tshanangi disappears, and his friend appears in the cave, seeking refuge. Toaliina, writes Seghers, “lived with this friend, not as happy as before, but without hardship. She bore him two children.” Perhaps the larger problem with this collection is that Seghers seems distracted by the political points she wants to make. The tone, throughout, is didactic—and not really conducive to storytelling. The characters devolve into mouthpieces for Seghers, and even the plots become muddled. An essay included in the collection describes the Haitian revolutionary hero Toussaint Louverture, but even here, Seghers disappoints. The essay, which seems short on real, substantive research, rambles on without achieving insight. Taken as a whole, this volume might be useful to scholars of Seghers, but to a lay audience, it doesn’t do her reputation any favors.
A disappointing collection with two-dimensional characters prioritizes politics over story.