Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

I started studying Haitian and Caribbean literature as a graduate student looking at diaspora fiction. This was one of the ways I snuck in as much literature in French while getting a degree based on English. So my ends were selfish but along the way I discovered some truly amazing work, in particular, a Haitian author who quickly became one of my favorites. 

Marie Vieux-Chauvet is one of those sadly overlooked writers whose work deserves to be taught, studied, translated, published and republished again. Her literature is politically and socially engaged and she addresses the important issues of oppression, racism, and sexism – all through her particular Haitian lens. She wrote five novels and two plays. Most of which are quite difficult to find outside of a library. None of them are currently available in English. 

The story of her most well-known novel, Amour, Colère et Folie is fascinating. Vieux-Chauvet wrote the book in 1968, and although the novel is set in a slightly earlier period of Haitian history (ca. 1939) it was a direct criticism of the Duvalier government. Vieux-Chauvet actually sent the manuscript to Simone de Beauvoir who helped get it published by Gallimard in France. Sadly, worried that her family in Haiti might be affected if the book gained too much success, she actually bought the remaining stock of the book and destroyed them. Luckily, a small publisher in France re-issued this novel along with one other Vieux-Chauvet in 2005.  

Amour, Colère et Folie (Love, Anger and Madness) is an incredible novel. Actually a series of three thematically connected novellas, the book examines Haiti’s special form of segregation “shadism” and the devastation it wrought on that country’s society. The first section – Love, is the story of Claire (ironically named, as she is the darkest of her two sisters) and her internal rebellion and transformation. It’s a dark and powerful story. Beautifully written. 

I’m hard put to decide which of Vieux-Chauvet’s novels I prefer. It’s a toss up between Amour, Colère et Folie and her first novel Fille d’Haiti, which follows the coming-of-age of a Port-au-Prince prostitute’s daughter named Lotus. This novel also explores Haiti’s powerful religious traditions and paints a fascinating portrait of a young woman struggling to understand who she is when faced with a series of contradictory social mirrors. 

I just recently found out that The Modern Library is publishing a translation of Amour, Colère et Folie scheduled for 2009 by a translator duo of Rose-Myriam Rejouis and Val Vinokur. I’m ecstatic. I’ll be one of the first people to buy it. I’d been nearly convinced this would never happen.

And for those of you who do read in French, I would recommend her other novels if you can find them: 

  • Fille d’Haïti. Paris: Fasquelle, 1954.
  • La Danse sur le volcan. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose / Emina Soleil, 2004
  • Fonds des Nègres. Port-au-Prince: Henri Deschamps, 1960
  • Amour, colère et folie. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose / Emina Soleil, 2005.
  • Les Rapaces. Port-au-Prince: Deschamps, 1986.  

14 Responses to “Marie Vieux-Chauvet”

  1. Dorothy W.

    Well, too bad her work isn’t available in English! It’s too bad that’s the case for many writers …

  2. verbivore

    Dorothy – oh I couldn’t agree more. The amount of wonderful fiction that never makes it into English is fairly appalling.

    Amateur R – I definitely will.

  3. bkclubcare

    OK – This is in my 2009 tbr list! It’s not that far away, is it… Thank you, (also, you may want to check your wordpress profile and add your website so that your comments link back? I had to hunt for you – but I found you! 🙂 ) – Care

  4. Logophile

    This writer sounds incredible, I wish I could read in languages other than english as I hate to think of the talent I’m missing out on. Hey ho, glad to hear there’s a translation in the offing.

  5. Ann Darnton

    One reason I am so ashamed of my inability to speak any other language is because it means I have to read literature in translation and even if you can find it that is so often second best. Still, at least the new edition will give me the chance to try this writer. Thanks for the post.

  6. Juliette

    This sounds very enticing. I am wondering … do you write in french as well … I find so much beauty in french that is so often lost in translation.

    Should we get that wonderful translating duo Levear and Volokhonsky on the case I wonder – their Tolstoy translations have really persuaded me!!

  7. verbivore

    Care – thanks for the tip, I will do that! And no, 2009 doesn’t seem that far away does it? 🙂

    Logophile – She is splendid and was an active member of important literary circles in Haiti at the time. I’m just so excited a translation will be coming out soon.

    Ann – Its true that a lot of translations aren’t wonderful. It’s too bad because there really are some wonderful translators out there.

    Juliette – You remind me that I’m still keen to try Levear and Volokhonsky! I haven’t yet tried any of their translations they are supposed to be really wonderful. As for your first question, I don’t write any fiction in French. I tried once but the rhythms are all wrong. Maybe someday.

  8. student

    good news–there is already an english translation. it was completed through the university of virginia press by Carrol Coates, appropriately called “love, anger and madness”

  9. verbivore

    Hello student! I wondered if Coates would be the one to first translate this novel. He’s done some wonderful wonderful work with other Caribbean literature. I will have a look for this – thanks so much for the tip. I’m curious now about the new translation coming out this year.

  10. Carrol F. Coates

    I rarely get into sites with “live” discussion, but if this becomes visible, I have to thank the student comment, just above, and decline the compliment. It is true that the University of Virginia Press accepted my proposal to translate AMOUR, COLERE ET FOLIE in the ’90s, but the Chauvet heirs refused to sign the contract. So, I did not do it. The good news is that Rose Réjouis and her husband have (I believe) completed there own translation and that it is scheduled to appear in summer 2009. (There were at least two previous translations of the novel, or trilogy of “nouvelles” if you prefer, but neither was published.)

    • verbivore

      Prof. Coates – I’m extremely happy you found your way to my blog. And this is great news about the translation of Amour, Colère et Folie coming out. I’ve been waiting for this for years. When Emina Soleil re-issued two of her novels in 2004, I tried to get the rights to translate them and learned they were already contracted out to a publisher in the US. I was quite disappointed but very happy her work would finally appear in translation. I hope some of her other work will also find its way into English – something to look forward to!

  11. James Hall

    One can now order “Love, Anger, Madness” in anticipation of the formal release, currently scheduled for March 30, 2010.

  12. verbivore

    Hello James and thanks for the comment. It’s actually out already, came out in hardback last August. Maybe March 30 is the paperback release date? Fantastic book!

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