So, I’ve read a lot of books recently while waiting for doctors and the like, so I better get started catching up on my reviews. I’m starting back in with Zombi, You My Love by William Orem, a wonderful professor of mine at Emerson who oversaw my first confrontation with playwriting. The class was incredible–but I definitely think I need to leave playwriting to the professionals.
But back to Zombies. I had a chance to read his newest novel, Killer of Crying Deer, while in his class. It was a beautiful story about an abducted British boy being shipwrecked with a tribe of the Shell People in the Florida Keys in 1699. When we talked about it, Orem asked if I found the language difficult because he had gotten comments to that effect from other people. I had to stop and think about it, because I had gotten so absorbed in the story, but I had noticed it the language having a distinctly different flow and feel. My conclusion was that it felt like I was actually reading a translation from the Shell People’s language–an extrodinarily good translation that brought me solidly into their culture but a unique occurance with an author writing in their native language.
At the same time I purchased Killer of Crying Deer, I had also purchased his collection of shorts about Haiti: Zombi, You My Love. It got buried on my shelf and I found it again when I was getting ready to head out west and needed something to read. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the stories, other than being set in Haiti before the overthrow of Duvalier (pre-1986).
What I found was a series of stories from 1936-1985 which weave and connect, drawing various local and visiting characters into a rich tapestry portraying life in the island country. From pompous aide workers to overworked nurses and Vodou priests, Orem has a story for every kind of person living on the island. Some are mystical, others brutally honest about the conditions and attitudes of the people.
My two favorite stories in this collection are Bright Angel and Ló Bó Dlo. They were both stories that dealt with Vodou, but in different ways. Bright Angel was about a young woman who ends up pregnant by a man from the Dominican Republic and initially goes to a houngan, or Vodou priest, for an abortion. She ends up changing her mind and trying to get him to reverse the process about half way through. Ló Bó Dlo was about a young man who was refusing to carry on his family’s Vodou heritage. His father was a griot as was his father and his father before him, etc. He was breaking with tradition and contemplating leaving Haiti.
Both of these stories had an incredible lyrical quality to them that almost made them seem like an oral tale, rather than a story confined to the page. The mysticism seemed almost logical and inevitable in them and contributed to the feeling of overall satisfaction at the end of the story. I feel that Angel had a happy ending, whereas the ending for Blo was much more ambiguous, but I put the book down at the end of both of those stories to better savor the sensations and feelings that Orem managed to evoke.
The whole collection is quite excellent and when you start noticing the recurring characters, it’s fun to make the connections between them and notice the subtle web that connects the whole island together.
Now I want to get my hands on his other collection, Across the River, and, if I could find them, his one-act plays. They are not, unfortunately, published in a separate collection, but I sure wish they were.