The Martyred Crowd: “Cathedral of the August Heat, A Novel of Haiti”

The Martyred Crowd: “Cathedral of the August Heat, A Novel of Haiti” June 14, 2015

This is a short, feverish, seamy, painful book from 1987 about a revolutionary upsurge among the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere. It’s written by a dissident journalist exiled by the Duvaliers. It’s Communist in rhetoric, and there are moments toward the end when the rhetoric and also the optimism feel really flimsy. But most of the book is given over to tales of life at the bottom: sultry dreamscapes and violent nightmares, phantasmagoric beauty and brutal suffering, flame-of-the-forest flowers fluttering onto rivers that run with outlaw blood.

I mentioned Jean Genet when I quoted this book and I do think if you like him at all you should read this. There’s a mermaid, and a prison laundress; a heroic tap-tap driver and a child weeping outside the gates of Heaven. There’s a fairly hilarious failed birth-control campaign. Catholic imagery comes into the book mostly through the lens of Vodoun, although toward the end there’s also a sharp nod to liberation theology.

I read it in the Bridget Jones translation, and although I obviously can’t compare it to the original, it seemed to flow really well and handled the transitions from more-traditional to more-folkloric or more-fevered narration well.

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