Thursday, 17 April 2014


After The Dance...A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti

 Edwidge Danticat
In the time of Shakespeare, when his actors were all male, the younger men and boys were given the female roles. That, in itself, is not too confusing for his audience. Add to the plot that the female character has to be disguised as a boy, so the boy is now dressed as a girl, dressing as a male. Now, bring it all up to date, give that role to someone like Eddie Izzard, in all of his transvestite glory, and we now have complete confusion – but something we might all want to watch and revel in all the complexity. Finally, let’s ship all this mix to a Caribbean Island and try and follow...

What we have in this book is a blend of travelogue, memoir, and history of the island, all bound together by the author’s return to the island of her birth, in readiness for the carnival at the end of the week. But the confusion begins almost from the very beginning. The early chapters tells of her childhood years; thus beginning the history element, and we meet characters who we can presume we will follow throughout the book, but we won’t. The following chapters will take a theme of a mask for the carnival and will give us a synopsis of why it’s appearing in the carnival, the history, the people that will don these masks, the geography of the island where the mask originated.  I’m sure you get the gist... So, having settled into the new format, we are then shifted back to the carnival itself, but little time is spent at the actual festivities, only a chapter. We will finally get a narrative of the day after the event. The only thing we don’t get is a plot, a story, a tugging of our emotions. There is simply no part of the text that leaves a ‘what happens now’ sense of excitement.

I do understand what the author has tried to do; intertwine the history of her life, with her island and bring it all into a contemporary setting. However, for me, it has dismally failed.  If it had been a travelogue, it would have been fine, albeit sketchy, as a history book, it would have been lacking, as it only scratches the surface of the complexities of the island’s mysterious past. As a memoir, it isn’t! As a work of fiction, it perhaps gives a literary licence to play with facts, landscapes and characters. The trouble is, because it is being so many different things at the same time, it just ends up confusing in every element.  So I’ve no idea whether the information in the text is true, myth or fictional. Similar, I think, to watching Eddie Izzard, playing a Viola, in Twelfth Night. Confusing, distracting, and leaves the audience wondering just what we were supposed to take away from the prose. Certainly, what you see – in this case, on the front cover – is not what you get once you delve further. Shame, really.

Written with all due respect to Eddie Izzard – I have only used his name and character for illustrative purposes of this blog and no opinion regarding his character is suggested, inferred or presumed in any other way. 

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