Whose Noir?

Yes, we Haitians can tell our own stories. And they’re not all melancholy, doom and gloom tales of our poor little country. Well, in Haiti Noir they are. Though, these stories are written with such depth that you’re forced to peel away at all the visible trappings of poverty, political strife, and violence to find a certain kind of magic at their core. Of course, you do. It’s Haiti, after all. And the ‘Noir’ genre is so fitting as Edwidge points out in the introduction–a film genre made popular by the French now twisted and bent to fit the narratives of its former colony. Edwidge reminds us that it was during Haiti’s occupation by U.S. Marines that Hollywood’s zombie movies were born. Marines would send letters home colorfully describing the various “indigenous” ceremonies and the horrors of being trapped on this hot, humid island where the natives were a constant threat with their magical spells and trances and drumming and speaking in tongues. Noir, indeed.

It’s no wonder Haiti Noir, part of Akashic Books’ Noir series, is getting so many reviews. I’m honored, of course. I’m sharing space with the likes of a formerly exiled poet, a Rhodes Scholar, and two Haitiphiles (non-Haitians who’ve spent plenty time living and writing about Haiti). With each story, I learned something new about my native country. (Quiet as kept, I had to rely on YouTube videos and maps to write my story set during the earthquake on the streets of Delmas, Port-au-Prince. Months later when I return to Haiti after 28 years, I realized that you absolutely cannot walk to Grand Rue from Delmas with a body on your shoulder within a mere 15 minutes. Thank goodness for editors.) Though, what I can claim is the authenticity of the Haitian voice. It was refreshing to read each story and see the literary tradition I come from–especially those stories that were translated from French and Creole. There is a lyrical thread or a syncopatated rhythm that binds each story to the next.

As a writer, a pay attention to pace and tone in the telling of a story. I truly believe that stories and their telling have a certain aesthetic–as in art. There is color and movement in the placement of the words, actions, and characters. Maybe it was the editing that lent itself to the overall tone of the anthology. But I’m pretty sure a reviewer for the LA Times got it right when they wrote, “…Danticat has put together a collection possessing classic noir elements — crimes and criminals and evil deeds only sometimes punished — but also something else, perhaps uniquely Haitian too.”

Here are some of the reviews:

New York Times
LA Times
Christian Science Monitor
Publishers Weekly
Ms. Magazine
Poets & Writers

Edwidge Danticat, Haiti, Haiti Noir, Writing

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