Hadriana’s Voice

“I died on the night of the most beautiful day of my life.”

Movement 3 of the novel again takes us into yet another, entirely surprising set of stories – told, this time, in Hadriana’s own words. Now, we learn how Hadriana herself experienced her zombification, and all that came before — and after. Pay particular attention to the ending of the novel, and the stories it enticingly leaves untold.

Reading: Movement 3

Please feel free to share your reactions in the comments section below.

12 Replies to “Hadriana’s Voice”

  1. I really loved how nature come to life in this third movement as an ally for Hadriana, how her escape is mediated by the elements of nature and by geography once Jacmel refuses to open its doors to her.
    This is especially clear when she says, in chapter 15, “Mes liens ont été resserrés pour toujours avec la mer, le ciel, les oiseaux, la pluie, les arbres, le vent. Mon sens vital s’est de même aiguisé pour la perception des humains et des animaux”. She seems to have gotten out of the state of zombification with a new sensibility that allows her to hear, see, smell, feel the presence of other species of animals and plants.
    It was probably one of my favorite passages of the novel because it felt refreshing. I could feel, a few lines later, the cristal water of the “source de montagne” where Hadriana refreshes her “humiliated flesh”.

    Laura says:
    1. I just want to say how much of a blast I had translating that section of the novel, Laura. I got to really revel in Depestre’s (nostalgic) love for the natural world in Haiti – and in how much his evocation of that world counters the dystopian view of Haiti and its landscape that tends to circulate outside the island. It was one of those moments when I felt deep the joy of translating literary fiction: cumulative list–style passages like this one often can be the parts of a narrative we rush through quickly. Translating, though, is a decadent opportunity to savor the words on every page. I remember feeling so glad to revel in Depestre’s words here and am happy to know you spent some time dwelling there as well!

      Kaiama Glover says:
  2. I loved reading this dialogue: it is such a fantastic, efflorescent, luminous passage, and I also marvel at how you translated the “cumulative list-like passage”, Kaiama, so that the building power of the prose from the original comes across.

    Laurent Dubois says:
  3. That translation experience must have been amazing! I just really love that passage.

    Laura says:
  4. One of my favorite scenes from the first movement was the mixing and blending of historical memory in the carnival, when the village square is transformed into the “cosmic stage of the universe.” In this movement, we get a glimpse of the individuals underneath the masks of these historical figures. Manipulating history itself so that it parades out of order on this town square, it is the dressmaker, the frail shoemaker, the dockworker, the notary that step into the roles of Simón Bolívar, Joseph Stalin, and the likes, to stage this party of different historical contexts all in the same instance. Thus here, the conventions of history – in the rejection of linear time – and social norms – in the confusion of the social roles of revolutionary leaders and workers – are muddled, reversed, subverted, and played upon in the carnival. Hadriana engages in carnivalesque subversion and deconstruction of social norms, similarly, to some extent, in upending the social expectations for a white French woman. She attempts to lose her virginity and favors carnival over the Catholic ceremony at her funeral.

    I’m intrigued by the ending of the novel. There is no story of the 10 years of Patrick and Hadriana’s coupledom. I wonder if this is to maintain Hadriana as this mysterious, magical, angelic figure. If we were to see Patrick and Hadriana as an ordinary couple, the surrealist spell of mixing dream and reality would have been broken. Hadriana would cease to be a dream. I’m also curious about this idea of the mysterious, dreamy woman, which we also see in Breton’s Nadja as Kaiama mentioned. Depestre gives us Hadriana’s POV in this last movement. It has been a while since I read Nadja, but if I am remembering correctly, Breton doesn’t reveal Nadja’s POV . She remains a mystery that continues to haunt the narrator. Is there any haunting that remains in Depestre’s novel despite the reunion of Patrick and Hadriana? If so, who is left haunted and by what?

    ana says:
    1. What a fabulous (and I think absolutely right) reading of the carnival scene, Ana – both as regards the matter of history and Haiti in a global frame AND with respect to the subversive workings of carnival where “small” people from a “small place” (wink wink Jamaica Kincaid) remind themselves that they are, in meaningful ways, a very big deal. A nice metaphor for the Haitian nation as a whole…

      As to your second point: be forewarned, I’d like to ask you to answer some of those questions you’ve put here perhaps rhetorically? I’ll share with you “live,” though what have been some of the critical responses to that conclusion…as well as my own thoughts.

      Kaiama L Glover says:
  5. I was struck again by the not-so-subtleness of the political conversation in the final moments of the novel. There is first the commentary on the social status/place of Haitians in the broader Caribbean, “a bunch of Haitians, veritable pariahs of the Caribbean wherever they migrated in search of work.” Following that is the longer section on (almost) whiteness as property, or in this case whiteness as “visa of divine right.” Though at this point I feel like I should be expecting this kind of political not quite aside. I guess I’m curious as to this passage coming so close to the end and coming from Hadriana instead of Patrick? I can’t help but draw a comparison with the end of movement 2 ad Patrick’s own experiences in UWI-Mona.

    Cameron says:
    1. Thank you for bringing our attention to this important passage. Indeed, it always strikes me as funny that many “professional” readers have suggested that Hadriana lacks a political perspective, given both this moment and the letter from Gisèle K. Similarly, returning to Ana’s point above, it’s has been surprising how the novel has also been accused of “absenting history”…

      I’ll be curious to hear more about the connections you draw with the conclusion to Movement 2!

      Kaiama L Glover says:
  6. I was fascinated at the end of the second movement that Hadriana ended up in Jamaica, and of course in the third movement we discover how and why. To Cameron’s point above, I was really struck how she was received both in Haiti and in Jamaica, and there really is so much here about race/color and status. It makes me think too: who gets a second (chance at) life? At the end of the first movement, wealthy teenaged Gisele–who was zombified–lives and goes on to be a nun; Hadriana is also able to overcome her zombified state to be seen as lwa Simbi-la-Source. Their paths are in direct contrast to those experienced by those Black laborers zombified by Lil’ Joseph. Is Depestre commenting that wealth and whiteness “give” second lives? Looking forward to chatting tonight.

    Jessica says:
    1. I’ve been wondering all along why Depestre chose to put a white woman, a french foreigner, at the centre of his story about Jacmel/Haiti/zombification. Although, I have to say ALL the other characters, almost as one, equal the centrality of the protagonist, and in total have a louder, revealing, voice.

      Sally says:
    2. Ooh…I love that query about wealth and whiteness offering second chances. If there’s time tonight, I’ll be happy to talk to you a bit (and hopefully this will serve the interest of responding to Sally as well) about Depestre’s views on race and/vs class in determining the fate of individuals in the modern world.

      Kaiama L Glover says:
  7. Based on the conversation last night, I’d love to know more about the reception in France. Of course it’s a beautiful novel on its own right, *and * Laurent’s comment about how it was so popular in France versus the difficulties of trying to get an English version, right after we were discussing some of the ambiguity that can be interpreted over racial identities of characters made me curious about the extent to which the novel fits in France’s attempt to tout a problematic colorblindness/ambiguity in trying to avoid talking about race/racism. It’s also very possible I am projecting a very narrow/U.S. lens to this question and being reductive about Depestre’s wanting us to question what Kaiama posed: re: why it matters so much but just curious if anything has been written/discussed on this in terms of the overwhelmingly positive reception in France. I’m also curious about the politics and processes of translating/publishing and what other languages the book has been translated into. I just looked and it looks like it was translated in Spanish in 1988/1990 and Kaiama, I wonder if you are familiar with how similar or different that person’s process of getting translated was with your own process into English and what challenges you may have faced with this process.

    Rachel says:

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