At the age of 12, the girl everyone calls Cracked Head knows nothing about the ugliness of the world. Raised in a sheet-metal shack in the City of God, a poor neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, she lives with her mother, a prostitute by the name of Orange Blossom, and her stepfather, the ironically named Papa, a gangster quick to raise his fists. During his heists, he makes the young girl distract his victims – a task she carries out almost mechanically. Cracked Head watches, powerless, as her mother descends into alcoholism, but nurtures a secret: She is in love with Silence, her history teacher’s daughter, and the only reason she still goes to school. Caught between pure love and violence passed down through the generations, she dreams of America, even though those who have escaped to the United States have been deported.
When she kills Silence’s father without a second thought after he ties her up and rapes her, Cracked Head’s life is turned upside down. “Alone in the great night,” just like the gang leader Angel of Metal predicted, she tries writing to her “moon,” who disappeared to New York City with her mother. This hesitant, constantly interrupted letter is the common thread running through A Sun to Be Sewn, the debut novel from Jean D’Amérique. Shifting between realism and the naive poetry of childhood, the author dives deep into the belly of a city whose poorest have lost all hope. This fable about impossible innocence brings together themes shared by all Haitian authors, including corrupt politicians, the exploitation of bodies, the extreme hierarchization of society, and dreams of exile. Much like other writers of his generation, Jean D’Amérique shines a stark light on the violence poisoning the country and the all-powerful armed gangs who ignore the law.
Jean D’Amérique, born in 1994, has won the Prix de la Vocation and the Prix Montluc Résistance et Liberté, which is awarded annually to “a book dealing with resisting oppression in all its forms.” But he first became known for his plays and poetry. In fact, he remained a poet as he wrote his first novel in a sensual, graphic language that transforms trivial realities without sugarcoating them. “Me, Cracked Head, allegory of the thousand and one pains of the ghetto,” says the narrator. “My quest for a vital symphony fails. Voice shipwrecked, now my breath echoes in a spiral of ills. Strange cacophony. My name is a poem about the end of the world.” Either in a twist of fate or as a tribute to the godfather of Negritude, the novel’s title reads like an echo of Aimé Césaire’s poetry collection, Solar Throat Slashed, itself inspired by a poem by Apollinaire. With this novel praised by American authors Edwidge Danticat and Leila Mottley, Jean D’Amérique has carved out a place as one of the exciting new voices in Francophone literature.
A Sun to Be Sewn by Jean D’Amérique, translated from French by Thierry Kehou, Other Press, March 21, 2023. 160 pages, 15.99 dollars.