Bronwyn Averett at The Quarterly Conversation:
For those familiar with canonical texts of Haitian literature, the translation of Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s 1957 novel La Danse sur le volcan into English is a long time coming. Vieux-Chauvet is a key figure of Caribbean literature, known for interlacing charged subjects such as slavery, colonialism, erotic desire, racial injustice, and the influence of Vodou in Haiti, and it is surprising that, until now, only her famous trilogy of novellas Amour, colère et folie—originally published by Gallimard in 1968 with the support of Simone de Beauvoir—has been translated. From a writer whose most frequent subject is the psyche of Haitian women during violent and politically charged moments of Haiti’s history—she herself fled the Duvalier régime after the publication of her trilogy—Dance on the Volcano is an intimate rendering of the Haitian Revolution and a nuanced portrayal of the brutality that resonated across all realms of society in the colony of Saint Domingue at the turn of the 19th century. Kaiama L. Glover’s translation is fluid, remaining faithful to the elegance of Vieux-Chauvet’s prose while navigating the stylistic concerns inherent to recreating a work written in the 1950s and about the colonial life of the 1790s, for a 21st-century audience.
The novel follows the story of Minette, a “free woman of color” (gens de couleur or “people of color” being the term for free men and women, usually of both African and European heritage, living in the colony before the Revolution) who becomes a beloved star of the Comédie de Port-au-Prince. Much of the plot revolves around Minette’s slow and tortuous disillusionment as she comes to realize that she is not nearly as “free” as she believes, even after reaching unprecedented social heights and gaining wide recognition for her talent. Beloved by the public, and cared for in private by a close group of white Créole artists of the theatre, she remains unpaid and has severely limited professional agency.