New Book: René Depestre’s “Popa Singer”


Popa Singer (Paris, Éditions Zulma, 2016) is the latest book by renowned Haitian poet and novelist René Depestre. Popa Singer is an autobiographical chronicle of the writers return to Haiti in the 1950s, when the Duvalier regime was in place. It provides a personal account of an important chapter in Haitian history. In “Littérature: René Depestre, bonjour et adieu à Haïti,” Tirthankar Chanda writes: “In the pages of his new account, which combines fantasy and social satire, the tyrant Duvalier, alias Papa Doc, cohabits with the gods of Vodou and Haitian matriarch determined to protect her children against the cruelties of the dictator.” Below is the book description by Éditions Zulma [stay tuned for translations/excerpts of Chanda’s interview]:

To celebrate the return of his son to the country, Popa Singer—an enlightened and steadfast matriarch, armed with her sewing machine and her personal utopia—is determined to fight Duvalier, alias Papa Doc.

popacouv-l-572128Popa Singer tells the story of that duel in Jacmel, hometown of the author—like García Márquez told the story of Macondo and the Buendía family in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The entire story fits in an eloquent dialectic between aberrant monstrosity of Papa Doc and this “mom/spool of thread” who “will fly her enchanted kite into the feminine azure of history, like a foster mother, delighted to feed her Singer sewing machine with strands of beauty to embroider the beautiful sheets of a Germano-Haitian marvelous real.” The Rabelaisian fantasy spreads in whimsical expressions that are themselves pieces of bravura worthy of Albert Cohen’s Mangeclous [Nailcruncher].

If he testifies with joyous ferocity the terrible whims of the president-for-life, the novelist of passionate impetuousness—peerless stylist and master of an incomparably inventive language, who mixes cheerful eloquence and vitriolic humor—never abandons his prose to a playful trance; he creates a real blaze of allusions and metaphors to tell the story of a world of madness.

For full article, see

Also see full interview with Tirthankar Chanda at

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