Review: The Return by Dany Laferrière

The Return
Dany Laferrière
Translation: David Homel
D&M Publishers

Just a brief note about this book: Laferrière is a great writer, and I had no idea how big he was until I had to review one of his books for Rover, where this is also cross-posted. Although I have seen the author on TV here in Quebec a number of times, I`d never read any of his books. In the end, I read The Return three times and still felt like I was seeing some universal truth for the first time. This read is well worth your book-buying buck.

Winner of the 2009 Prix Médicis, Dany Laferrière’s eleventh novel is about his return to his native Haiti after living 33 years in exile. Half prose, half poetry, The Return is a finely crafted autobiographical account of the author’s voyage back to his place of birth. But his homecoming is bittersweet, as he bears the news of his father’s passing.

Windsor Laferrière, the former Assistant Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the former Mayor of Port-au-Prince was driven out of Haiti by ruler Papa Doc, François Duvalier, and later settled in Brooklyn. His father had left when Dany was four or five years old, and before that, he had spent much of his time in hiding. As a result, although the son loved his father, he never really knew him. A generation after his father`s exile, the son too flees Haiti after a close friend and journalist is murdered. The stifling loneliness of exile took its toll on the mind of the elder Laferrière, but for the son it was the exile in time that was more pitiless. He missed his childhood more than his country. Going back to the Haiti of his youth and visiting his family is just one part of the Return. The final leg involves going back to Baradères, the village of his father`s birth.

Although returning from exile is difficult for many North Americans to grasp, Laferrière continually draws his readers into his story through common experience, which starts on the second line of the very first page, “The inevitable phone call that every middle-aged man one day will receive. My father has died.” As many can attest, the death of a parent is one of life’s milestones and a harsh reminder of our own mortality, but it is also a time of tremendous personal growth. In the author`s case, he is able to discover much about his father, and by extension himself, through the anecdotes of his father`s friends in Brooklyn, Port-au-Prince and later in the countryside on his way to Baradères.

The Return is replete with thought-provoking observations about the human condition, from the dynamics and cyclical nature of power in Haiti to the preoccupation with hunger and finding one’s next meal. Laferrière’s writing is poetic, profound and beautiful, and this was only the translation. Is it possible that the original was even more moving? The author eloquently reminisces about his country of birth only to discover that although he speaks Creole, he is no longer considered Haitian by the people he meets.

About life and death, the city and country, north and south, The Return is also a rumination about identity, time and space. A single reading of this novel will yield its beauty and thoughtfulness, but to fully appreciate it warrants a second reading. For anyone who has lost a parent, this is a must-read.

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Meet Revolutionary Mother
Review: Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter
Interview with Carmen Aguirre, Chilean Resistance Fighter
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The Antagonist by Lynn Coady
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
Dogs at the Perimeter by Madeleine Thien
Going Down Swinging by Billie Livingston
Incendiary by Chris Cleave
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell 
The Girl Without Anyone by Kelli Deeth



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