Hadriana in All My Dreams, by Rene Depestre.
Hadriana in All My Dreams, by Rene Depestre. Akashic Books. Translated by Kaiama L. Glover. 2017
First published 1988.
A magical novel by a prominent Haitian author that is full of life and death, carnival, zombies, and longings.
Rene Depestre was born in 1926 in Haiti. Educated in Haiti, he was active in political resistance, exiled, and lived much of his life in Cuba and in France. Primarily known as a poet and for this novel, he is an important figure in world literature. His writing is bold and inventive; by turns erotic and satirical. In her introduction to this book Edwidge Danticat notes the supernatural and surrealism elements in his work and how he writes about “the daily mysteries of life.”
Hadriana in All My Dreams is set in Jacmel, the town where Depestre was born and a place known for its unique atmosphere. The story is narrated by a young Haitian man who relates the story of Hadriana, a beautiful young Creole woman with whom he shares a god-mother. From the start it is a story about the flexible line between life and death. Hadriana is to be married to a handsome young man in a wedding timed to coincide with the celebration of carnival. In the midst of the rollicking anarchy and sexual display, the bride collapses at the altar and is buried. Death appears in the midst of a celebration of life. But Hadriana is not in fact dead. Witch doctors have poisoned her in order to turn her into a zombie. The last section of the book follows her struggle to escape from zombiehood. In the middle of the story, Depestre writes a rather serious discussion relating how zombies seem to be what colonizers are trying to achieve with their subjects. Like evil witch doctors, colonial powers hope to reduce their subjects to an obedient, death-like state where they will do the work they are assigned without challenging it or claiming full person-hood.
Deprestre’s novel is unusual, in my experience, but I can understand why it has appealed to other readers. It affirms life in the face of death, freedom and sensuality in face of order. Vodou and zombies inhabit the space between living and dying. I recommend the book to readers who are open and flexible to an unusual narrative. I do not recommend the book to those who are uncomfortable with chaos and public sexuality.