Haitian’s Coming of Age in 1959: In the Postcolonial Light and Shadow of Castro and Duvalier

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This first-person narrative, in both French and English, by a sixteen-year-old Haitian told in diary form in 1959 parallels the coming to power of Castro in Cuba and contrasts the continued role of François (“Papa Doc”) Duvalier in Haiti. Both historical figures hover over the narrative and represent the hope and despair the narrator identifies as rite of passage away from his native Haiti, torn between his upbringing in a French Canadian boarding school and an apartment in Queens, New York, with his expatriate parents. This experimental book mixes languages in giving form to the process of individual growth. It uses Canada’s two official languages as formal references to the poles of cultural integration the narrator is called upon by upbringing to recognize and accept. Thus the narrative begins in French and subsequently shifts to English, symbolically characterizing the narrator’s growing up as a process embedded in the changing form of language.


“This book conveys Jacques Narcisse’s story in a series of journal entries covering the year 1959 which marks the advent of Fidel Castro and the strengthening of Duvalier’s power. Although the narrative is mostly set in French Canada, there are strong echoes of the Caribbean, the place the sixteen-year-old protagonist has left behind, and of Queens, New York, where his parents live ... His attitude to life gives his diary a freshness which the reader appreciates as he watches his uneventful life unfold, knowing full well that extremely dramatic events lurk in the background: his separation from his family, his new surroundings with its load of alienation and acculturation; the misery of life in a religious boarding school, and his parents’ exile which foreshadows the exodus of Haitians and Cubans from the Caribbean ... In the conclusion, the melancholy of exile, of the passing of time, and the recognition that friendships are what matters become poignant ... Thus, his journal written in the early days of 1959 prefigured the lot of many a Caribbean who, as a result of the Duvalier and Castro regimes, will enter a double dimension and straddle two cultures.” – Professor Marie-Hélène Laforest, Istituto Universistario Orientale, Naples, Italy

“This work is, in a formal sense, the diary of a year in the life of an adolescent Haitian boy attending boarding school in Québec ... This is a document of “prise de conscience,” of bildung, of the young author’s coming to awareness of his place in his family, in the new society and culture he has joined, and of the very strong attachment to the cultures of the Caribbean that follow him, pushing, pulling and shaping him in myriad ways ... The voice of the diarist is truly one of an adolescent: exultant and despondent with the space of moments, at the same time self-important and beguilingly naïve, ambitious and considerate, and also wildly sorry for any hurt inflicted. It is endearing and exasperating, self-absorbed, but also reaching outward to various worlds which will finally make this youth into the man he becomes ... The thoughts, observations and emotions of the young diarist in his own words give us all we need to understand the tensions and forces that shape him in this decisive year.” – Helena Lamed, Director, Legal Methodology Programme, McGill University

Table of Contents

Preface by Maximilien Laroche
January - December
Appendices - A,B,C
Index of Names Cited

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