L’Ombre animale by Haitian writer Makenzy Orcel is not really new; it was published a year ago (Zulma 2016). We had mentioned it briefly when it was nominated for the 27th edition of the Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe et du Tout-Monde (which was recently awarded to Haitian poet Anthony Phelps). However, we had not provided additional information.
The novel has won several literary awards, including Prix Littérature-monde 2016, Prix Louis Guilloux 2016, Prix littéraire des Caraïbes de l’ADELF 2016, and Prix Ethiophile 2016. Orcel is also author of La nuit des terrasses (2015) ; Les latrines (2011); A l’aube des traversées, et autres poèmes (2010); Les immortelles (2010, 2012); Sans ailleurs (2009); and La douleur de l’étreinte (2007).
In February 2016, Mohammed Aissaoui (Le Figaro) wrote, “Is this a puzzle portrait of Haitian society? Undoubtedly, but L’Ombre animale is much more than that; it is an extraordinary breath of life animated by a dead woman.”
Here are excerpts from the Zulma description: Makenzy Orcel, the enfant terrible of Haitian letters, the noted author of Les immortelles, is back. L’Ombre animale is already emerging as one of the most beautiful titles of this reappearance, a title that perfectly transcribes the spirit of a novel in a chiaroscuro in which the body is exposed, decomposes, and is renewed. It is difficult to sum up the incredible profusion of a text that blurs maps, escapes labeling, and chooses the brilliance of the word as its only compass. Makenzy Orcel is an archeologist of meaning, a sensorial writer who draws from marginality a rare power of evocation. An ambitious and demanding novel, L’Ombre animale has not ceased to fascinate us.
It all begins with a voice, the voice of a dead woman rising between confession and prophecy. The narrative comes to life in a village in the Haitian countryside. A poor environment, miserable even, but nevertheless, with a social cohesion woven from the solidarity among the townspeople, despite the death that strikes pitilessly and the daily rhythm of its funeral processions. The first part of the novel follows the tradition of the Haitian rural novel and feeds on the tragedies and the small pleasures of the country people. A proud people, resigned but paradoxically combative. One finds accents of Jacques Roumain’s masterpiece, Gouverneurs de la Rosée, an empathy for the humble and the downgraded.
Among the crowd of protagonists, one quickly spots the menacing personality of Makenzy, the pater familias, brutal and omnipotent; Orcel, the brother, on the edge of autism, forced to accept the unbearable; but also l’Envoyé de Dieu [the Envoy of God], a sort of lewd guru, as well as a myriad of other figures who all constitute illustrations of our human condition. Above all, there is Toi—mother and confidante of the deceased—a conduit for witnessing and guardian of myths. Toi is an equivocal character, at once the reader’s alter ego and the repository of a universal word. Then the romance leaves the countryside to venture into the alleys of the big city. L’Ombre animale turns into a noir novel, a dreamlike inquiry, whose atmosphere is reminiscent of Roberto Bolaño’s great metaphysical thrillers. This last section presents an interloping fauna composed of artists and thugs in league with a muddled police inspector.
Toi, Orcel, Makenzy: three characters as much as they are psychoanalytic instances. For this is what this book is all about: an unyielding psychoanalysis of society and the Haitian Being. The writer attacks patriarchy head on, aware that our societies can no longer ignore brutality and discrimination against women. Humor is present between the lines like the burst of laughter of a survivor. The narrative swells up with scattered memories, contraband poetry, and stylistic findings that make the young novelist an heir to Jacques Stephen Alexis. The novel ends with a splendid poem entitled “Vers la lumière,” with these words, overwhelming in their simplicity: “I am not dead, I am on the way to finding myself…” [Je ne suis pas morte, je vais à ma rencontre].
For more information (in French), see http://www.zulma.fr/livre-l-ombre-animale-572124.html
See the author’s bio at http://ile-en-ile.org/orcel/