12 January 2015

Dany Laferrière: Pays sans chapeau (1996)

As I wrote in the blog post below, Dany Laferrière left his native Haiti in 1976 after the murder of his fellow journalist Raymond Gasner, and Tout bouge autour de moi is an account of his return to Haiti in 2012. Pays sans chapeau, however, concerns an earlier return he made: his first in twenty years, in 1996. But this time it's a semi-fictionalised account.

Pays sans chapeau (lit. 'Country without Hat') is a Haitian name for death, a place where a person's hat is never worn. And death is very much part of this novel, as indicated by the local painting Enterrement à la compagne ('Burial in the Country') by Jacques-Richard Chéry on the front cover.

Laferrière's novel describes the exile, the narrator (Vieux Os ('Old Bones')) getting together his mother Marie and aunt Renée (who both appeared in Tout bouge autour de moi), re-joining his friends Philippe and Manu and his former girlfriend Lisa, whom he learns has always loved him.

But the 'real' events described between family and friends are interspersed by dream sequences, so that the novel largely consists of relatively small sections which happen in a kind of dream or subjective world where zombies or Haitian gods exist, and larger sections in the 'real' world divided by smaller labelled ones. But there is a certain amount of merging, of confusion between the 'real' and the 'dream' world. The final section, where Vieux Os visits the other world and meets some gods, is logically called 'Pays sans chapeau' after the title of the book, and the final section is a one-page resolution of both the dream world and the real world.

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