I must confess that Babouk: Voices of Resistance confounded me. Before reading this intriguingly titled novel, my interest was piqued because of the subject matter, the Haitian Revolution, and the genre, historical fiction. I expected this novel to surely leave a lasting impression on me, much like Segu by Maryse Conde. However, after finishing this book I am left with mixed feelings. On the one hand I recognize Babouk as one of the earliest and few historical fiction novels to focus on Caribbean history, in particular that of Haiti, the first free black nation in the Western Hemisphere. On the other hand, I found the narrative unfortunately to be uninspired and caricature-like. Clearly written by a non-Black author, Guy Endore, it reads more like a fanciful, paternalistic parody of how a white person imagines slavery was experienced by enslaved Africans. The naive reactions and platitudes of the African slaves and of Babouk, to the vile dehumanizing acts of European slavers and slave master’s, begs belief. Nevertheless, I still give this book three stars since Endore clearly did his homework on Haiti at the time of the Haitian Revolution. His depiction of the setting and atmosphere of the period is quite convincing; from the Don Pedro dance to the cutting off of ears of runaway slaves. Moreover, the protagonist in the story is based at least in part on a real Saint-Domingue (i.e., Haitian) slave named Boukman Dutty, who in fact played a crucial role in the early stages of the Haitian Revolution, before the rise of Toussaint Louverture. Babouk (or Boukman if you prefer) therefore is an important historical figure who deserves to be recognized. Yet in the final analysis Babouk the novel falls short of this noble objective. A few other things diminished my enthusiasm for this novel. The portrayal of the encounter between Babouk and a Carib Indian and his family was bizarre and completely unrealistic. Moreover, the author gratuitously peppered the narrative with the N-word, which seemed to convey his pejorative disposition towards Black people (and perhaps is reflective of prevailing sentiments in the US in the 1930s). Yet at the same time I felt that his agenda in writing Babouk was to shine a light on modern day racism against Blacks. In fact, that brings me to another minus point. There were several anachronistic references to civil rights and present-day discrimination against Blacks in America, which occasionally disrupted the flow of the novel. Overall, I would recommend Babouk to anyone who is a serious student of Haitian history and who is openminded and not easily put off by racially offensive language.
Have you read Babouk: Voices of Resistance? What are your thoughts after reading it? What did you find most interesting about it? Thanks as always for stopping by! Please feel free to share your thoughts or reactions in a comment below. Also, if you would like to receive more updates about my writing please consider joining my newsletter mailing list by subscribing below.