If you’ve ever wondered what ingredients to use to create a zombie out of a living person (and how exactly does one extract the bones of a garter snake’s middle ear?), your search ends with this one-of-a-kind novel.
“I died on the night of the most beautiful day of my life.” So begins the testimony of Hadriana Siloé, a sensuous pale-skinned Creole woman who, on the Saturday evening of Jan. 29, 1938, in her Haitian village of Jacmel, collapses at her wedding altar. She had earlier taken a mysterious potion that induces what we would now label “living death.” She is buried in the midst of a village bacchanal and later revived by an evil sorcerer. Keep in mind, however, that two-thirds of the book passes before Hadriana gives us her side of the story. Before then, this ribald, free-wheeling magical-realist novel, first published in 1988 and newly, engagingly translated by Glover, examines this traumatic event from many different angles, drawn from before and after Hadriana’s…um...passage. There is, for example, the legend of a libidinous young Jacmel citizen transformed into a libidinous butterfly enjoying carnal knowledge of most of the women in town; a town that undergoes precipitous decline tied to Hadriana’s misfortune. These and other aspects of the novel’s central catastrophe are filtered through the recollections and research of a man named Patrick, whose youthful ardor for Hadriana endures throughout the decades of her afterlife. Patrick, who seems a surrogate for the now-90-year-old Depestre, shows himself throughout to be a true savant on all things zombie, from the aforementioned recipe for “zombie poison” and its antidote to the celebrated cases of “Lil’ Joseph [the] zombifier” and the dead-woman-walking known as “Gisèle K.” By the time you’ve wandered these spooky, sultry corridors of Haiti’s collective subconscious, you’re persuaded that the true sorcery being practiced here is that of a mature artist coming to terms—and making peace—with “the natural, the comical, the playful, the sensual, and the magical aspects of Jacmel’s painful past.”
An icon of Haitian literature serves up a hotblooded, rib-ticking, warmhearted mélange of ghost story, cultural inquiry, folk art, and véritable l’amour.