Jacques Stéphen Alexis was certainly an excellent writer. His prose is as thoroughly beautiful as it is consistent. In his third novel he tells the love at first sight (sort of) story of La Nina & El Caucho in 1948 Port-au-Prince during holy week. The majority of the novel shows La Nina’s struggles to reconcile her past memories, which are starting to come back, with her future as a prostitute. El Caucho’s character, a Cuban unionist, becomes more developed as well as his past is revealed. The ultimate ending was unexpected & not only appreciated, but necessary. It was a provocative story, but the depiction of females was suffering until that end. It redeemed whatever qualms I had initially, while still giving hope to the reader that this type of almost utopian love is worth striving for.
However, the Marxist rants were a little in your face & repetitive. Alexis attempts to weave it into the storyline, but anywhere he does shove it in sticks out as an obvious didactic attempt. It didn’t match the tone of the more loving tender moments.
The novel also completely discredits any possibility of female & female relationships. Not just romantically, but in a general loving sense. The ending also attempts to position this aspect differently, but while La Nina’s agency succeeds, this falls flat.
He meant for this to be a part of a four book series, so a lot can be forgiven. But the story, as beautiful as it is, relies on the gimmick of each chapter or “mansion” belonging to a sense. This is the most tightly executed aspect, but it’s also repetitive & annoying at times. What starts out as an interesting way to showcase the storyline, is what the novel eventually falls back & relies on.
The Letters in the back were a lovely addition & help make the text more accessible for readers new to Alexis.
Overall I think the story’s message is great, but not hardly as revolutionary as people have said. The human right to love & be loved is important & this is definitely a new approach toward conveying that, but it wasn’t my favorite approach.