Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Mystifying world of Haitian culture

Published:Friday | November 10, 2017 | 7:36 AM
Hadriana in my dreams
Glenville Ashby

Book: Hadriana In All My Dreams (A Novel)

Author: Rene Depestre

Translator: Kaiama L. Glover

Critic: Dr Glenville Ashby

Publisher: Akashic Book, Brooklyn, NY

Hadriana In All My Dreams is a compelling monograph. Surreal and imaginative, it is written with a dark richness and poignancy that is void of sensationalism and hyperbole. This is fictional realism at its best, and author Rene Depestre proves his salt as a master craftsman.

His work is an incredulous fusion of the sacred and the profane; life and death; and heaven, and there are tales of exhumation and of the 'dead' returning to life.

Haiti can be a terrifying, transformational place that scares away the faint-hearted as in the case of Giselle K. She is stricken with an embolism that supposedly takes her life only to be found later in rags, disoriented and psychologically dysfunctional. The coffin in which she is buried is now filled with coconuts. "She was sent to Philadelphia where the eminent American psychiatrist who had taken charge of her managed to completely restore her health within a year. Once cured, she resolved to (with the full support of her loved one) never set foot in Haiti again."


Surely, Haitian culture is incomplete without a word or two on Zombification. There is much to learn.

Article 246 of the Haitian Criminal Code addresses this incredulous feat: It is "considered attempted murder, by poisoning in the use of substances that, without causing death, produce a state of lethargy more or less prolonged, no matter how these substances have been deployed and what ensues from their deployment. If as a result of the state of lethargy induced the victim is buried, the crime will be considered that of murder."

Hadriana captures the fears and promise of a people steeped in abstruse rituals, a people moved by the underworld. And throughout, the mysterious Hadriana appears.

Still, Depestre's material transcends superstition. In a skewed way, Haiti's culture reflects life and justice. We are served with curses, demonstrable spells spewed by efficacious words without ritualistic fanfare. But the aim is always survival and the restoration of cosmic imbalance.

Curses are long-winded, bleeding with symbolism, as one father's tirade against his stepson proves. With biting aspersions, he utters: "Your upper wings will be reddish-brown with blue spots and black streaks. Your posterior wings will have all the shades of ochre, their honey-coloured outer edges adorned with a thin strip of mauve. Your abdomen will be cylindrical, striped with black and lemon yellow ... You will have blue-green circles around you eyes and your irises will be perfectly suited for the devil of your kind."

His curses become more pedestrian, vulgar, tempestuous: "You'll be more bloodthirsty in your vaginal dealings than a preying mantis ... you will waste you sperm chasing after females ... Unzipping your fly, women will find themselves facing a daunting crankshaft with a nightmare-seeking head for a knob ..."

And later, Depestre gives us a glimpse of Haiti's most inscrutable and feared secret societies: the Vlanbindingues.

The author even delves into evocative imagery of raw, unhinged eroticism and rape. In one scene, we read of a certain Balthazar Granchire, who "would wait until nightfall to slip into bedrooms and then hide under the bed, [and once] his prey had fallen to sleep, he would fill the air with his aphrodisiac exhalations". What follows is pure phantasmagoria.

"A few minutes later, breasts would be popping the buttons on nightgowns, bottoms bursting the elastic of underwear, inflamed

thugs opening wide,

vaginas, fascinated,

crying out with thirst and, above all, hunger."

Hadriana can be dark and terrifying. Then again, it is a side of human nature in

need of honest exploration. Depestre has courageously undertaken this

unenviable task.

Book: Hadriana In All My Dreams (A Novel) by Rene Depestre with translation by Kaiama L. Glover (c) 2017

Available at Amazon

Ratings: Recommended

n Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby