Lèt Ife ak Soul – a review
Lèt Ife ak Soul is an exchange of letters between soul-mates on the journey of life from their first romance through various rites of passage. The letters begin by evoking the intimacy of the lovers as they reflect on the first burgeoning of love in all its passion and intensity in a land and time now far away. The writer immediately conveys a lost era of youthful love that becomes the bedrock of their future together, which paradoxically is spent apart for long periods.
The characters come across as grounded and focussed in their quest to realise their dreams against the odds. However there is an acceptance and recognition of human frailty throughout the text yet interwoven with the hardship is a love and celebration of life. Through their letters we discover a world of sacrifice and determination, of hard work and privation in order to attain the goals worth having in life, « Anvan pou rèv satiyèt reyalite, li dwe reziste anba tout kalite tribilasyon: privasyon, separasyon, maladi, elatriye» (pg 23).
This silver thread of optimism and perseverance is testament to that unique Haitian quality of defying the ‘un' defiable. Life is lived out with missionary zeal and monk like asceticism in Ife's determination to master his circumstances. Yet throughout Soul is his life, his very ‘soul' and his reason for living. Without her he is lost. He never loses an opportunity to tell her so and continues to be surprised by her courage and tenacity. The writing displays a rare sensitivity and understanding of the feminine and of its strengths and qualities within a patriarchal reality. However Ife comes across as the more dominant of the two characters and essentially drives the correspondence. He is at one and the same time lover, mentor and husband. «Pi bèl amoni an, se amoni ou kreye anndan pwòp tèt ou pandan ou ap analize tout aksyon ou ansam ak tout kalite pawòl ki abitye soti nan bouch ou. […] Mwen swete ou va fè youn efò pou ou rantre fon nan oumenm epi pran san ou pou chèche tout eleman ki kab ede ou bati amoni ou panse ou pèdi a. Se sa mwen swete ou ak tout kè mwen.» (pg 27)
The choice of genre allows the characters to comment on and pronounce opinions on philosophical matters as well as the everyday reality of life for those in exile from their motherland. It is this intermarriage of the mundane and those things that strike at the essence of life that gives the writing its richness and deeply spiritual quality. It is a song to victorious living where hope is the last thing to die.
The quality of the writing is exceptional and gives voice to hitherto unvoiced sentiments of the Haitian diaspora's reality through the mother tongue manipulated with the creativity and skill of a potter with his clay. It is rich in proverb and idiomatic expression and pushes Haitian Creole to its upper reaches in the poetic prose it achieves.
Lèt Ife ak Soul is a challenging read and one which does not leave the reader unmoved by its subject matter as an ode to living life in all its fullness in the face of injustice and oppression.
I write this from London, UK on the eve of the unveiling of a sculpture named ‘Freedom!' specially commissioned by international aid charity, Christian Aid, and the International Slavery Museum, to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in the UK. It will be unveiled on 26th February 2007 in Liverpool's Merseyside Maritime Museum, and then will tour the country, taking in London and Bristol, before returning to Liverpool where it will remain on permanent display in the new International Slavery Museum, which opens on 23 August.
Haitian artists were commissioned for this work in recognition of the fact that the country had the only successful slave revolt that inspired social justice movements around the world and gave the Abolitionist movement in the UK a major boost.
(see Haiti Support Group: www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org and The Sculptors of Grand Rue web site www.atis-rezistans.com)
Lèt Ife ak Soul is part of the ongoing struggle of an oppressed people to be heard and does so with unequivocal boldness and courage in the language of the people, Haitian Creole. Kaptenn Koukourouj chapo ba!
Freelance Creolist and teacher of Haitian Creole
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