A determined entrepreneur gets the opportunity to build his own private asylum in the midst of a country in turmoil.
Drawing deep inspiration from Caribbean literature, particularly Haiti, debut novelist Hebert makes a fine first attempt at invention with a story that feels steeped in both colonialism and modern strife. The book is set in an unnamed Caribbean island populated by natives, mulattoes, third-world revolutionaries and corrupt politicians. The inescapable narrator is Alexandre, the son of a shopkeeper, who is determined not to descend into the poverty and violence that marks his homeland. Through loyalty and dignified service, the boy becomes a valued valet to Senator Marcus, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men on the island. One Sunday, the assistant manager of the country’s most exclusive hotels takes Alexandre to see a dilapidated country estate that will soon become both refuge and rationalization for the ambitious young man. Soon after, a wealthy white businesswoman out of her element buys the property and hires Alexandre to restore it to its richest state. Over the course of several years, Alexandre builds Habitation Louvois into an obscenely opulent resort that accents the bitter divide between the country’s wealthy tourists and the shantytowns that mark its true nature. When the country’s president dies, the new leader finds himself defending the country’s infrastructure from hordes of armed gangs. Alexandre completely retreats into his new life, shunning his father and former friends and living in a state of denial that borders on madness. “What is this war you keep talking about?” he says in one outburst. “Wars have battles and campaigns. This is just shooting. This is nothing but mindless, brutal violence. This is a power struggle, nothing more.” With echoes of Marie Vieux Chauvet and Isak Dinesen, Hebert demonstrates an ambition and clarity of vision that is rare in a first novel.
A rich, synthesized imagining of the personal history of a country torn asunder.