As a child growing up in Haiti, the novelist Edwidge Danticat was forbidden, to her undying dismay, to take part in carnival, the island's annual Mardi Gras celebration. Danticat now lives in New York, and last year she returned to the boisterous city of Jacmel for carnival week. In this engaging account, she traces the stories behind the parade's masked figures, which include a tiny boy dressed up as a frog, a giant papier-mâché butterfly, and a batlike monster with horns, as well as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and assorted devils, zombies, and AIDS activists. Through these tales, Danticat relates the history of a placeand an eventthat she finds both heartbreaking and irresistible.
Twenty years after emigrating to America, Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory) returns to her native Haiti and the coastal village of Jacmel to take part in her first Carnival. But she's not without reservations. As a child she was forbidden to partake in the festivities by her uncle, a Baptist minister with whom she lived before joining her parents in New York at age 12. "People always hurt themselves during carnival, he said, and it was their fault, for gyrating with so much abandon that they would dislocate their hips and shoulders and lose their voices while singing too loudly." Organized in sections that parallel Danticat's perambulations in the week leading up to the event, the author illuminates the political, economic and cultural history of the island nation, introducing Columbus, French colonists and Fran ois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, the dictator of Danticat's youth. Throughout, readers meet local artists, farmers and activists who call Jacmel home, including Ovid, a farmer whom Danticat meets having lost her way in an abandoned sugar plantation. Madame Ovid, his wife, crafts paper cones to hold the grilled corn flour she will sell during carnival. It's said that the act of writing leads to a deeper understanding of one's subject, and oneself. As the work reveals in its final pages, for no one is this more true than Danticat, who offers an enlightening look at the country and Carnival through the eyes of one of its finest writers. (Aug.) Forecast: With the Journeys series (including with Michael Cunningham's Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown, which also pubs in August), Crown adds to the growing list of travel series written by known authors such as National Geographic Directions and Bloomsbury's Writer and the City series. The slim size, low hardcover price and author recognition translate to good, steady sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Danticat (Farming of Bones; The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States) journeyed back to her native Haiti to explore what had been forbidden in her childhood: the colorful, raucous, dangerous carnival. Arriving a week before the annual event, she sought out some of the island's more unusual residents while exploring the history, folklore, and meaning of the many images of carnival. Her lively narrative describes a rich and complicated cultural history, influenced by Christianity, vodou, Europeans, pirates, dictators, past slavery, and an uncertain economy. From zombies, Arawak Indians, and SIDA (syndrome immuno-d ficitaire acquis), representing the ravages of AIDS, to the devilish Mathurins, who battle the dragon-slaying archangel Saint Michel, the many masked and costumed carnival participants parade by Danticat. By the end of the story, she has overcome her childhood fears, dropped her inhibitions, and joined in the enthusiastic revelry that is carnival, embracing strangers and singing. A short but entertaining narrative; for academic and public libraries. [This is the first in a series called "Journeys" that will feature noted authors on favorite destinations; forthcoming works include Michael Cunningham on Provincetown, Laura Esquivel on Mexico, Ishmael Reed on Oakland, and Myla Goldberg on Prague. Ed.] Linda M. Kaufmann, Massachusetts Coll. of Liberal Arts Lib., North Adams Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Novelist Danticat (The Farming of the Bones, 1998, etc.) slaps together a pastiche of cultural and political history, walking tour, and memoir focused around Carnival in the Haitian town of Jacmel. Though she lived on Haiti until she was 12, when she joined her emigrant parents in New York City, Danticat never attended Carnival, having been warned repeatedly by her overprotective guardians about its dangers. Now in her early 30s, she returns to the island, finally ready to embrace the bacchanal. Basing her research in the town of Jacmel, touted locally as "the Riviera of Haiti," the author interviews Carnival expert Michelet Divers, who sits on the committee charged with deciding who is in and who is out of the parade every year. (This year, Divers says, the mule with tennis shoes, a crowd favorite, is decidedly in.) Danticat wanders around the local cemetery, bushwhacks through banana fields in search of a 200-year-old steam engine, and talks to a local peasant farmer who still lives without electricity. She discusses standard Carnival characters, Carnival-specific games of chance, fireworks, banana fritters, and the contest to select city hall's Carnival queen. Finally, Danticat gets to Carnival day, offering snapshots of customary revelers: "zombies and apes greeting each other, white colonists kissing Arawak Indians, a lion sharing a bottle of juice with a bay alligator, and slaves shaking hands with ghosts and devils." Interspersed with these traditional characters are those masked as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Che Guevara. Darker notes are struck by a troupe acting out the plight of Haitian boat people encountering the US Coast Guard and a scrawny young man costumed as AIDS,sporting lipstick, blackened teeth, a wig, dress, and white underwear splotched with red. Meandering, intriguing, and maddeningly light on the actual Carnival.