I’m in Haiti with a short selection from the 1001 Books list. I’ve read it in a day and enjoyed its light clear prose. Here’s my review:
The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Walking, walking, up and down, down and up, the Negro began to think that the chamber music orchestras of San Souci, the splendor of the uniforms, and the statues of naked white women soaking up the sun on their scrolled pedestals among the sculptured boxwood hedging the flowerbeds were all the product of a slavery as abominable as that he had known on the plantation of M. Lenormand de Mézy. Even worse, for there was a limitless affront in being beaten by a Negro as black as oneself, as thick-lipped and wooly-headed, as flat-nosed; as low-born; perhaps branded, too. It was as though, in the same family, the children were to beat the parents, the grandson the grandmother, the daughters-in-law the mothers who cooked for them. Besides, in other days, the colonists–except when they had lost their heads–had been careful not to kill their slaves, for dead slaves were money out of their pockets. Whereas here the death of a slave was no drain on the public funds. As long as there were black women to bear their children–and there always had been and there always would be–there would never be a dearth of workers to carry bricks to the summit of Le Bonnet de l’Évêque.
The Kingdom of This World, through the eyes of Ti Noël, a trusted slave of a plantation owner on the Plaine du Nord, provides a vision of the turmoil in Haiti which followed the French declaration freeing the slaves there. He is a part of slave uprisings that cause the planters to flee to Cuba, and spends some time in Cuba himself. But eventually he returns, and discovers the world described above, in which a black king, Henri-Christophe, rules his countrymen with brutality and lives in courtly excess. Later this regime, too, fails, and Ti Noël returns to try to live out the end of his life amid the ruins of the plantation where he was once a slave.
This novel is a quick easy read, and had me googling images of the places described and the historical events discussed. It is an evocative glimpse into a critical time in Haitian history and makes me want to learn more. The language is light and lyrical. The novel has elements of magical realism, as the ways and beliefs of voodoo infuse the unfolding narrative. For a fascinating blend of European court life, plantation slave revolt, and the human will to survive whatever comes, pick up this short fascinating book.
Updating the scorecard:
Around the World (goal: 52 total including at least 6 in each of 6 different regions) 13
Asia/Mideast: 4 (Israel, China, Afghanistan, Japan)
Africa: 1 (Madagascar)
Europe: 3 (England/UK, Monaco, Poland)
Caribbean/Central America/North America: 3 (US, Cuba, Haiti)
Oceania: 1 (Fiji)
Extra: 1 (Scotland)
Around the US (goal: 50 states, DC, and PR): 4 (CA, MS, NY, RI)
1001 Books (goal 52): 9
A to Z challenge (must be completed in order–26 author last names A to Z then 26 titles A to Z–strategy is all!): 8
Authors: Auster, Beinart, Chandler, Donovan, Eugenides, Faulkner, Grau, Hosseini, Ishiguro