Moonbath

Moonbath

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By Yanick Lahens

Translated from the French by Emily Gogolak

Finalist for the 2018 CLMP Firecracker Award

An award-winning, lyrically written, beautifully haunting saga of a Haitian family's fight against a curse spanning four generations.

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

Paperback: 9781941920565

eBook: 9781941920572

Description

Winner of the 2014 Prix Fémina & 2015 French Voices Award

After she is found washed up on shore, Cétoute Olmène Thérèse, bloody and bruised, recalls the circumstances that led her there. Her voice weaves hauntingly in and out of the narrative, as her story intertwines with those of three generations of women in her family, beginning with Olmène, her grandmother.

Olmène, barely sixteen, catches the eye of the cruel and powerful Tertulien Mésidor, despite the generations-long feud between their families which cast her ancestors into poverty. He promises her shoes, dresses, land, and children who will want for nothing…and five months after moving into her new home, she gives birth to a son. As the family struggles through political and economic turmoil, the narrative shifts between the voices of four women, their lives interwoven with magic and fraught equally with hope and despair, leading to Cétoute’s ultimate, tragic fate.

Yanick Lahens was born in Port-au-Prince in 1953 and is one of Haiti’s most prominent authors. She published her first novel in 2000, was awarded the prestigious Prix Femina in 2014 for Moonbath, and is the 2016 winner of a French Voices Award.

Reviews

Finalist for the 2018 CLMP Firecracker Award

Winner of the 2014 Prix Fémina & 2015 French Voices Award

“A remarkable accomplishment.” Asymptote

“Yanick Lahens adeptly dipped her pen nib in tears to write Moonbath. She brandished her writing instrument with dexterity, creating Cétoute as a metaphor symbolizing both the pain and the promise of Haiti.” —Lanie Tankard, The Woven Tale Press

“In the Haitian tradition of the rural novel […] Yanick Lahens’ Moonbath establishes itself by its grand and lucid beauty.” Le Point

“Lahens’s ambitious fresco of twentieth-century Haiti through the eyes of peasants depicts the first generation with Romain-like incision.” —Robert H. McCormick Jr, World Literature Today

“Lahens is the most important living female Haitian author in French.” —Christiane Makward

“A novel of violent beauty.” Le Monde

“[Lahens] describes her country with a forceful beauty — the destruction that befell it, political opportunism, families torn apart, and the spellbinding words of Haitian farmers who solely rely on subterranean powers.” Donyapress

“One of the finest voices of Haitian contemporary literature.” L’Ob’s

“Everything is there, the content, powerful, and the style, poetic.” Les Echos

“The novel’s mythic atmosphere is enhanced by Lahens’ meditations on personified nature, and Emily Gogolak’s translation preserves a bare and moving voice throughout.” The Arkansas International

“Power and corruption are ever present, and their pressures—be they sexual or economic or both—are often impossible to reckon with or escape. Though what’s most surprising is the sense that one has waded fully into the world these characters inhabit, a world so alive that I sometimes forgot I was reading a book at all. I’m reminded of first reading Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, a book that similarly transported me clean out of my self and into some other world beyond.” —Christian Kiefer, The Paris Review

“An invigorating and necessary investigation of tradition, politics, loss, and history.” —Zeena Yasmine Fuleihan, Ploughshares

“On every reread of this multigenerational Haitian novel I find more complexity and beauty in its pages.” —Cecilia Weddell, Associate Editor of  Harvard Review Online

Excerpt

1

After a madness that lasted three days, here I am stretched out, at the feet of a man I don’t know. My face a hairsbreadth from his muddy and worn shoes. My nostrils overtaken by a stench that nearly revolts me. To the point of making me forget this vise of pain around my neck, and the bruise between my thighs. Difficult to turn over. To stand back up. To put one foot on the ground before the other one follows. To cross the distance that separates me from Anse Bleue. If only I could run. If only I could flee as far as Anse Bleue. Not once would I return. Not a single time.

But I cannot. I cannot anymore…

Something happened at dusk on the first day of the storm. Something that I still don’t explain to myself. Something that broke me.

Even though my left cheek was pushed right up against the wet sand and my eyes are nearly closed shut, I still manage, and this gives me some relief, to scan this village built like Anse Bleue. The same narrow houses. All the doors and all the windows closed. The same leprous walls. The same muddy road leading in both directions to the sea.

I want to force a cry up from my stomach to my throat and make it jet out from my mouth. Loud and high. Very loud and very high until I rip these large dark clouds above my head. To cry to call the Grand Maitre*, Lasirenn* and all the saints. How I would love for Lasirenn to take me far, very far, on her long and silky hair, to rest my aching muscles, my gaping braids, my skin all wrinkled by so much water and salt. But before she hears my calls, I can only fill the time. And nothing else…

All that I see.

All that I hear.

All that I smell.

Every thought, fleeting, full, suffocating. Waiting to understand what

happened to me.

The stranger took out his cell phone from his right pocket: a cheap Nokia like the ones you see more and more at the All Stars Supermarket in Baudelet. But he couldn’t use it. He was shaking all over. So much that the phone flew out of his hands and fell straight on my left temple. A little more and the Nokia would have hit my eye…The man backed away abruptly, his gaze terrified. Then, working up the courage, he bent over slowly and stretched out his arms. With a quick motion he grabbed the phone while taking extraordinary care to not touch me.

I heard him repeat very quietly, three times in a row, his voice choked with emotion: “Grace mercy, grace mercy, grace mercy.” I still hear his voice… It gets mixed up with the sea that writhes in wild sprays upon my back.

In my head the images rush. Clash. My memory is like those wreaths of seaweed detached from everything, dancing, panicking on the foam of the waves. I would like to be able to put these scattered pieces back together, to hang them up one by one and reconstruct everything. Everything. The past. The time from long ago, as it was yesterday. As it was three days ago.

Year after year.

Hour after hour.

Second by second.

To retrace in my mind the route of a schoolgirl.

Without brambles, without bayahondas*, without an airplane in the night sky, without fire. To retrace that route as far as the wind that, this night of the storm, enchants me, intoxicates me. And these hands that make me lose my footing. Stumble.

To pull together the whole sequence of my existence, to understand once and for all… To bring back to life, one by one, my grandfathers and my grandmothers, great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers, as far back as my ancestors Franginen*, Bonal Lafleur, Tertulien Me´sidor and Anastase, his father. Until Ermancia, Orvil, and Olme`ne, the water and the fire. Olme`ne whose face I do not know. Olme`ne whom I always missed and whom I still miss.

What a storm! What a tumult! In this whole story, it will be important to pay attention not just to the wind, the salt, the water, but also to men and women. The sand was turned around and upside-down in the greatest disorder. You could call it a land waiting to be sowed. Loko* blew three days in a row and swallowed the sun. Three long days. The sky turned a lighter and lighter gray. Milky in places.

“Do not do what you could regret,” my mother hammers into me. “Don’t do it.”

I dribble like an old woman. I ramble like a mad woman. My voice breaks at the back of my throat. It’s still because of the wind, the salt, the water.

2

The elusive gaze of the men, the slightly aghast look of the women, upon the arrival of this rider, all suggesting that he was a feared and fearful being. And it’s true that we all feared Tertulien Me´sidor.

Tertulien Me´sidor loved to pass through all of the villages, even the most far-flung, to test his power. To measure the courage of men. To weigh the virtue of women. And to verify the innocence of children.

 

Biographical Note

Yanick Lahens was born in Port-au-Prince in 1953. After attending school and university in France, she returned to Haiti., where she taught literature at the university in Port-au-Prince and worked for the Ministry of Culture. Her first novel was published in 2000, and she won the prestigious Prix Femina for Moonbath in 2014. 

Emily Gogolak is a journalist focusing on migration, gender, and the US-Mexico border. A former editorial staffer at The New Yorker and a James Reston Reporting Fellow at the New York Times, she now lives in Texas. A graduate of Brown University in Comparative Literature, she is also a literary translator. Her translation of Moonbath won a 2015 French Voices Award.