The Boiling Season: A Novel

( 3 )

Overview

An ambitious young man struggles to define himself and his future in a Caribbean nation plunged into violent revolution.

Having spent his childhood trapped in the slums of a politically volatile Caribbean island, Alexandre dreams of escape. Within only a few years, he rises from being a valet for an important politician to becoming a caretaker for a derelict estate purchased by a wealthy foreign businesswoman. While the rest of the country copes with the rise of a brutal ...

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The Boiling Season

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Overview

An ambitious young man struggles to define himself and his future in a Caribbean nation plunged into violent revolution.

Having spent his childhood trapped in the slums of a politically volatile Caribbean island, Alexandre dreams of escape. Within only a few years, he rises from being a valet for an important politician to becoming a caretaker for a derelict estate purchased by a wealthy foreign businesswoman. While the rest of the country copes with the rise of a brutal dictator, Alexandre flees to his new home in the remote mountains outside the capital. There he oversees the restoration of a manor house and gardens that evoke for him an innocent, unspoiled past.

When his new employer sees a chance to turn the estate into something more—a decadent, jet-setting resort—Alexandre views the undertaking as the culmination of his dreams. Eager to lose himself in the creation of this opulent Eden, Alexandre severs the last links to his unhappy past, including his family and friends. But as the outside world starts to crumble around him, Alexandre must face the limits of the utopia he has created. Soon he is trapped in the middle of a war he has tried to ignore, and discovers he will have to choose between preserving the estate he loves and protecting the people he has spent his life trying to escape.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
On an unnamed Caribbean island, where lighter skin affords greater economioc stability, Alexandre, a boy from the slums, is hired as a servant to Senator Marcus, a powerful local politician. Alexandre becomes a household favorite thanks to the education his shopkeeper father sacrificed to give him, in the hope that Alexandre would “give back” as a doctor or lawyer, but Alexandre has “no aptitude for being a champion of the people.” Through his friendship with M. Guinee, an aging manager of the island capital’s grand hotel, Alexandre is introduced to the Habitation Louvois, a spectacular estate in arrested decay deep in the countryside. Mme. Freeman, a wealthy American businesswoman, buys the property and hires Alexandre as the manager, turning the property into a world-class resort. But as the island drifts into civil unrest and revolutionary chaos, Alexandre’s Shangri-La becomes more and more isolated and threatened by crowds of the poor from a violent shantytown that springs up outside the hotel gates. Alexandre as narrator, timid and unquestioning, lends a vagueness that undermines the exciting potential of the novel’s premise. Why, for instance, is the wealthy Mme. Freeman choosing a politically crumbling country to vacation in; how has the unguarded palatial Habitation Louvois remained undisturbed for 20 years; and what of Alexandre’s unexamined asexuality? Not fable-like enough to be so coy, Hebert’s debut is too windy to fashion thrills out of the gun battles and revolution, although there are poignant touches, particularly in the final third, as Alexandre reacts to the estate’s irreversible decay. But without dates, backstories, and understandings of the principal characters’ motivations, it’s a pretty tepid thriller. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Mar.)
Madison Smartt Bell
“Hypnotically fascinating…It’s remarkable to see an American novel so profoundly steeped in the tradition of the great Haitian writers of the twentieth century.”
Charles Baxter
“THE BOILING SEASON asks all the right questions, and it answers those questions beautifully, with great dramatic force.”
Laura Kasischke
“…luminous and important…Christopher Hebert is a serious new novelist, one who’s offered us a real gift-a mesmerizing entertainment that uplifts, educates, moves, and changes us.”
Nicholas Delbanco
“With an unforced formality of diction…the whole is told with such clear-eyed compassion that the reader comes to honor failure-one mark of this novel’s success.”
Peter Ho Davies
“THE BOILING SEASON is a beguiling political novel…Hebert conjures this strife-torn island-at once fictitious, but also hauntingly familiar-with uncanny precision and compelling lucidity.”
Michael Knight
“…a tour de force of restrained, unreliable first-person narration, a love letter to a beautiful, forgotten place, and a visceral depiction of Haitian political upheaval…A truly auspicious debut.”
Booklist
“Hebert conjures a vibrant atmosphere, as rich as a character as any inhabitant, whether in the fetid stink of the slums or the cool, detached opulence of the most affluent homes...”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Allegories about the morality of international development projects are rarely as subtle and lyrical as Christopher Hebert’s debut novel, ‘The Boiling Season.’”
Dayton Daily News
“’The Boiling Season’ is a subtly crafted novel and an auspicious debut for Hebert.”
Kirkus Reviews
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062088512
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/2012
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Hebert graduated from Antioch College, where he also worked at the Antioch Review. He has spent time in Guatemala, taught in Mexico, and worked as a research assistant to the author Susan Cheever. He earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan and was awarded its prestigious Hopwood Award for Fiction. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his son and wife, the novelist Margaret Lazarus Dean.

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Customer Reviews

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