Authors & Events
Mar 30, 2010
| ISBN 9780812976922
Aug 04, 2009
| ISBN 9781588368706
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Mar 30, 2010 | ISBN 9780812976922
Aug 04, 2009 | ISBN 9781588368706
The only English translation of “a masterpiece” (The Nation)—a stunning trilogy of novellas about the soul-crushing cost of life under a violent Haitian dictatorship, featuring an introduction by Edwidge Danticat Originally published in 1968, Love, Anger, Madness virtually disappeared from circulation until its republication in France in 2005. Set in the barely fictionalized Haiti of “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s repressive rule, Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s writing was so powerful and so incendiary that she was forced to flee to the United States. Yet Love, Anger, Madness endures. Claire, the narrator of Love, is the eldest of three daughters who surrenders her dreams of marriage to run the household after her parents die. Insecure about her dark skin, she fantasizes about her middle sister’s French husband, while he has an affair with the youngest sister, setting in motion a complicated family dynamic that echoes the growing chaos outside their home. In Anger, the police terrorize a middle-class family by threatening to seize their land. The father insinuates that their only hope of salvation lies with an unspeakable act—his daughter Rose must prostitute herself—which leads to all-consuming guilt, shame, and rage. And finally, Madness paints a terrifying portrait of a Haitian village that has been ravaged by militants. René, a young poet, is trapped in his family’s house for days with no food and becomes obsessed with the souls of the dead that surround him.
Marie Vieux-Chauvet, a seminal writer of postoccupation Haiti, was born in Port-au-Prince in 1916 and died in New York in 1973. She is the author of five novels, including Dance on the Volcano, Fonds des Nègres, Fille d’Haiti, and Les… More about Marie Vieux-Chauvet
Q&A with Modern Library and translators Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokur ML: How did you become translators? What made you want to translate this particular book? Why is it important?RR: I became a translator my senior year at Amherst College when I decided to translate Patrick Chamoiseau’s novel Solibo Magnifique as my honors thesis. I loved that book because it depicted the struggles of a black intellectual in a humorous way. In a way, my translations are an anthology of depictions of black intellectuals, and this book fits perfectly. I’m from Haiti, so translating the work of a Haitian writer also meant a lot to me. Love, Anger, Madness is unique, and Marie Vieux-Chauvet does so much important work in this novel. To give one example: It’s amazing that in a society in which rape has been so common–from the rape of servants during and after slavery to modern political sexual violence–she is still able to write about masturbation, erotic fantasies, and sex. She refuses to allow sexual violence to make a taboo of sexuality. While working on Chauvet, I was reading about Haitian feminist activists and journalists who had been kidnapped, beaten, and left for dead not long after the election of François Duvalier in 1957. Many of these women never wrote a word after their ordeals. In a way, Chauvet speaks for them. VV: Before I started working with Rose, I had come to translation through poetry. I was born in Russia and moved to Miami Beach when I was seven. English became my native language, and I never learned to write in proper Russian. But Russian literature reclaimed me eventually. I had been writing poetry in English for several years, when I took a course on Russian poetry with Joseph Brodsky and soon became obsessed with trying to translate Osip Mandelstam, the most exacting of twentieth-century Russian poets. So translation has always been a somewhat perverse aesthetic puzzle for me–the object being how to convey the literariness of a text into another language. If a translation–and here is where I disagree with Nabokov, who argues that only information and not aesthetic value can be translated–fails to convey the fact that a reader is looking at, say, a great poem, then nothing has been translated. ML: What difficulties did you come across when translating Love, Anger, Madness? Was there anything you learned or discovered that you didn’t expect?VV: Working together means that we are forced to articulate the mechanics of two different languages and their different “modes of intention.” It’s really fascinating to discuss why you can say something this way in one language but not in another. But it’s also shocking to discover how much one takes for granted about a language until one has to explain it to someone else.RR: Chauvet wrote in French primarily because she was interested in securing a wide audience for the book. She does use Creole when necessary–usually to describe the peasants’ way of life–and does so without apology. On top of that, she sometimes uses words that have different meanings in French and Creole: for instance, bouillon in this book means stew (Creole), not a clear broth (French). Chauvet is aware of being a postcolonial writer who is borrowing another language to make a portrait of her own country. Conveying the narrator’s easy literary French alongside the somewhat stilted French of her “colonial” intellectuals was a challenge. I think about translation as the interpretation of idioms and non idioms. Idioms are impersonal. It is by attention to idiom that a translator puts one language’s way of meaning in dialogue with another’s. Non-idiomatic language, on the other hand, is a writer’s poetry and that’s always more difficult and interesting to translate.
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