Dany Laferrier’s the enigma of the return is a novel that is intimate and captivating mainly because of the emotions that are clearly projected everywhere in the novel. First of all it is very difficult to not make out the mixture of poetic and prose structures consistent in the novel. The poetic structure dominates the narration though since a few aspects appear in prose. The poetic structure is more than justified because as we all know poetry conveys strong emotions with the help of diction and even the way that these words are arranged, presented and chosen. This is a story of a tree uprooted abruptly from its roots because of dictatorship that exists in Haiti at the time when Papa doc reigns. The writer is forced to leave his country out of fear of being killed. He settles in Canada and has to visit Port au Prince suddenly when that call that every middle aged adult has to expect at some point in their lives comes through. His father is dead and he must make his way back to Haiti immediately. The story describes this transition in detail and focusses on how the writer feels about being away for so long. He finds himself constantly comparing Canada and Haiti bringing out a mixture of pain at having stayed away for so long against his will and nostalgia at all the things that made Haiti his first love. He also clearly shows a preference for Haiti stating that Canada is a vast land of cold that only a native can find their way through. I love this book for many reasons one of which is the ability to relate to all it contains from beginning to end. After having lived in a country that is not your own, every single thing you see upon returning home reminds you of your experience before your exit. The writer speaks of eating mangoes while bare chested. He also remembers to add that each smell, taste and sound transports him back to his childhood. ‘My childhood cuts through me like a knife’ and that is the beauty of specific memories that cannot be laid off because they are ingrained in us and gnaw at us until we give way to them dominating our thoughts and taking a hold of our emotions. He speaks of sending his mother expensive plates which she keeps under her bed while still eating from a beat down plastic plate. His mother does this not out of hatred but out of a special reverence for a token from her son who lives in a faraway place. She only eats in these plates on special occasions. Growing up I saw my grandmother treat items sent us from close relatives in the west with this same reverence. In the midst of all this happening, Dany Laferrier feels he missed out on special moments with his nephew, sister and mother because he feels he has been away for so long. He feels a disconnect from everything around him and even remarks that ‘speaking creole isn’t enough to become a Haitian.’ That ‘you can be Haitian only outside of Haiti’ because the irony is that once outside ‘home’ you can boldly claim a national identity but then you come back and realize you’re not quite enough of what you thought you were. The separation that comes from migration creates deep holes that nothing concrete can refill and that’s the irony because money or gifts are not always enough to fill the gaps our absence leaves. Much like Simone Schwarz Bart’s Ton Beau Capitaine, money sent ‘home’ regularly did very little to strengthen a weak and emotionally drained spouse from caving into the urges of adultery.
Dany Laferrier, The Enigma of the Return
Published by Efua R. Armstrong
Efua is from Ghana and is interested in society and culture as well as conversations on gender and sexuality. While sitting through a speech by a professor at Kenyon College, I agreed with the idea that the limitations of the human mind aren't necessarily burdens but gifts! I couldn't agree more! I am curious and love to process and reexamine information. I also have absolutely no restraints in admitting that I don't have all the answers or that I am still thinking about something! Go ahead and leave me a message! View all posts by Efua R. Armstrong