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Book cover
Haitian Laughter / Rire hatien
A Mosaic of Ninety Miniatures in French and English, Bilingual Edition
Georges Anglade Translated from the French by Anne Pease McConnell
Book review:
The Meaning of Laughter
By Hugues St. Fort

With Rire hatien / Haitian Laughter, Georges Anglade has taken a giant step in literary and linguistic innovation in the realm of Haitian literature. To my knowledge, this is the first time that a Haitian printer (in this case Fquire Vilsaint), publishing in the United States, has produced a Haitian text in a French-English bilingual edition on American soil. Such an undertaking is quite different from English translations of Haitian texts in French, such as the novels of Jacques Stephen Alexis (Compre Gnral Soleil / General Sun, My Brother, University of Virginia Press, translated by professor Carrol Coates, 1999; or Lespace dun cillement / In the Flicker of an Eyelid, University of Virginia Press, translated by Coates and the Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat, 2002, for example). Here, Anglade is setting his sights not only at the immense United States market made up of an impressive population of second-generation Haitians -- born in the United States or having arrived in America at a very young age, and who are ill-informed about the culture of their immigrant parents but also at the American public at large, whose perceptions of Haiti and its culture are particularly disastrous.

Rire hatien / Haitian Laughter cannot be reduced, as might be believed, to a mere collection of the four volumes of lodyans already published in French in Montreal by Anglade (Les Blancs de Mmoire, 1999; Leurs jupons dpassent, 2001; Ce pays qui mhabite, 2002; Les allers simples, 2005). The lodyans is a uniquely Haitian literary genre whose roots are found in the deepest soil of Haitian culture, at the same level as Haitian Creole language and Haitian vodou. The Creole expression tire lodyans / bay lodyans, meaning to tell brief, humorous stories, designates short, amusing tales at which Haitians are past masters and which are told at particular occasions (parties, evening gatherings, after a good meal). The person who tells these lodyans is known by title of lodyanseur (in Creole, lodyans). For Anglade, this oral construct puts us in the presence of the fictional form par excellence of the Haitian cultural background, since it is the only one that is rooted in that culture, and since what is more it seems to be impossible to categorize with any other literary genre known in the world (p. 12). Georges Anglade has never ceased to pay homage to the man he calls the master, Justin Lhrisson, who proved to be inexhaustible lodyanseur in the Haitian daily paper Le Soir in which he published between 1899 and 1908 in Port-au-Prince. By renewing this genre which seemed lost to literature even though it had endured in oral expressions of daily experience, Anglade has laid the foundation of a grand plan for theorizing on the Haitian lodyans. This is because, behind the author, the man of literature, there is a researcher in human sciences (geography) whose analyses of Haitian space have contributed to the renewal of Haitian scientific thought in social studies. Taking up a definition proposed by the Haitian literary critic Pradel Pompilus, for whom the lodyans is a farcical tale told by a professional storyteller to a familiar audience, Georges Anglade, in his recent conversations with the Qubcois anthropologist Joseph J. Lvy (2004), makes a distinction between bay lodyans and tirer des lodyans. According to Anglade, bay lodyans (literally to give lodyans) is used in the sense of chatting and exchanging the days news. having a gossip, chattering about everything and nothing; whereas tirer des lodyans refers to the act of telling a structured story from beginning to end, [creating] a miniature. Is this a pertinent distinction? It is a difficult question to resolve without a good deal of work: multidisciplinary research in the areas of literature, linguistics, anthropology.

Two superb features of this magnificent collection by Georges Anglade should be pointed out: the splendid printing work carried out by Fquire Vilsaint of Educa Vision, Inc., which establishes him as a master of his craft, and the sumptuous English translation by an American professor, Anne Pease McConnell, who recognizes and conveys all the subtleties of the original text written in a plural French which is by turns standard, classical, modern, local. Bringing about such an achievement (they say that translation is treason) is no mean feat.

[ Review from Du ct de chez Hugues, Haitian Times, Vol. 8, no. 17, April 26-May 2, 2006; translated from the French by Anne Pease McConnell]
2006, Educa Vision Inc., 400pp, Hardcover
ISBN 1-58432-359-0
$50.00 Add
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