A club where we dive into fresh English translations of stand-out fiction from around the world.
This month's book club pick is Hadriana in All My Dreams by René Depestre, translated from the French by Kaiama L. Glover.
Hadriana in All My Dreams, winner of the prestigious Prix Renaudot, takes place primarily during Carnival in 1938 in the Haitian village of Jacmel. A beautiful young French woman, Hadriana, is about to marry a Haitian boy from a prominent family. But on the morning of the wedding, Hadriana drinks a mysterious potion and collapses at the altar. Transformed into a zombie, her wedding becomes her funeral. She is buried by the town, revived by an evil sorcerer, and then disappears into popular legend.
Set against a backdrop of magic and eroticism, and recounted with delirious humor, the novel raises universal questions about race and sexuality. The reader comes away enchanted by the marvelous reality of Haiti's Vodou culture and convinced of Depestre's lusty claim that all beings--even the undead ones--have a right to happiness and true love.
"You do not need to believe in zombies or Vodou to be carried away by this story--a metaphor for all forms of dispossession. . .René Depestre has gone beyond nostalgia to write a sumptuous love story."
-- Le Monde
"An exceptional novel...Depestre's masterpiece and one of the greatest examples of Haitian literature."
--New York Journal of Books
René Depestre, born in 1926, is one of the most important voices of Haitian literature. A peer of seminal figures like Aimé Césaire, Pablo Neruda, and André Breton, Depestre has engaged with the politics/aesthetics of negritude, social realism, and surrealism for more than half a century. Having lived through significant moments in Haitian and New World history--from the overthrow of Haitian dictator Élie Lescot in 1946, to the first Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris in 1956, to a struggle with Haiti's François "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1957, to a collaboration with Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara and a fraught relationship with Fidel Castro in the 1960s and '70s--Depestre is uniquely positioned to reflect on the extent to which the Americas and Europe are implicated in Haiti's past and present. He is the author of Hadriana in All My Dreams
Kaiama L. Glover is an associate professor of French and Africana Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is the author of Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon, coeditor of Yale French Studies' Revisiting Marie Vieux-Chauvet: Paradoxes of Postcolonial Feminine (issue no. 128), and translator of Frenkétienne's Ready to Burst and Marie Vieux-Chauvet's Dance on the Volcano. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, and the Fulbright Foundation.
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