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Love, Anger, Madness by Marie Vieux-Chauvet
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Love, Anger, Madness (1968)

by Marie Vieux-Chauvet

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The triptych Amour, Colère et Folie is a merciless attack on Haitian society in the second half of the 20th century: amongst other things, Vieux-Chauvet exposes the damaging effects of a long tradition of racism and class-prejudice, the competing demands of two rapacious and terminally-conservative religious traditions (Voudou and Roman Catholicism) and the economic disaster resulting from a succession of corrupt governments selling off whatever they could to the USA. All this has left the Haitian people collectively too cowardly to stand up to state terrorism.

Duvalier is never actually mentioned, and in fact one of the three stories is ostensibly set long before he came to power, whilst the two others describe fictional political movements whose iconography has more to do with Nazi Germany than with Haiti, but in all three cases it's clear that the crimes they commit are exactly those most associated with the Tontons Macoutes. Duvalier got the message, anyway: he was apparently so furious about the book that Vieux-Chauvet had to flee the country whilst her family bought up and suppressed all remaining copies of the original 1968 edition (it wasn't republished until 2005, long after her death).

The three stories don't form a linked narrative: each has a different location and set of characters, and there isn't even any obvious time-sequence. But they have very strong thematic links: each is about a group of characters literally or metaphorically trapped in a house by the threat of political terror. They draw strongly on mainstream European literary traditions with all the descriptions of bourgeois neighbours spying on each other from behind their shutters and evaluating microscopic differences in social status. (There's also clearly a Chekhov thing going on: in each story the main peripheral character is a doctor, the first story is about three provincial sisters, the second about a family trying to avoid the confiscation of an orchard, ...)

All this comfortable middle-classness is set against a jarringly-different external world, where people are being arbitrarily arrested to be beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted in jail; where the beggars carry guns and spy for the police; where the police or paramilitaries shoot people apparently at random during festivals or on park benches; where a poet is ipso facto a political criminal; and where the reality is always decidedly worse than the nightmare. Emma as directed by Quentin Tarantino.

It's all very strange and quite disturbing, and obviously in many ways specific to the time and place where it was written, especially because of the dominant role of the mulatto landowning class in post-revolutionary Haiti, which led to the obsessive attention to precise degrees of ancestry and shades of skin-colour that Vieux-Chauvet describes. But it's still very much worth reading for what it tells us about the ways in which bullies and sadists get into power by exploiting existing weaknesses in the societies where they find themselves. ( )
1 vote thorold | Jan 30, 2016 |
Released in the wake of the 2010 quake in Haiti, this translation of Marie Vieux-Chauvet's Love, Anger, Madness is nothing short of spectacular. The translation is excellent, and the images within are some of the most vibrant and difficult I've ever encountered. ( )
  Beezie | Mar 26, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marie Vieux-Chauvetprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Laferrière, DanyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679643516, Hardcover)

Available in English for the first time, Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s stunning trilogy of novellas is a remarkable literary event. In a brilliant translation by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokur, Love, Anger, Madness is a scathing response to the struggles of race, class, and sex that have ruled Haiti. Suppressed upon its initial publication in 1968, this major work became an underground classic and was finally released in an authorized edition in France in 2005.

In Love, Anger, Madness, Marie Vieux-Chauvet offers three slices of life under an oppressive regime. Gradually building in emotional intensity, the novellas paint a shocking portrait of families and artists struggling to survive under Haiti’s terrifying government restrictions that have turned its society upside down, transforming neighbors into victims, spies, and enemies.

In “Love,” Claire is the eldest of three sisters who occupy a single house. Her dark skin and unmarried status make her a virtual servant to the rest of the family. Consumed by an intense passion for her brother-in-law, she finds redemption in a criminal act of rebellion.

In “Anger,” a middle-class family is ripped apart when twenty-year-old Rose is forced to sleep with a repulsive soldier in order to prevent a government takeover of her father’s land.

And in “Madness,” René, a young poet, finds himself trapped in a house for days without food, obsessed with the souls of the dead, dreading the invasion of local military thugs, and steeling himself for one final stand against authority.

Sympathetic, savage and truly compelling with an insightful introduction by Edwidge Danticat, Love, Anger, Madness is an extraordinary, brave and graphic evocation of a country in turmoil.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:46 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In Love, Anger, Madness, Marie Vieux-Chauvet offers three slices of life under an oppressive regime. Gradually building in emotional intensity, the novellas paint a shocking portrait of families and artists struggling to survive under Haiti's terrifying government restrictions that have turned its society upside down, transforming neighbors into victims, spies, and enemies.… (more)

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