Dance on the Volcano (Paperback)
This is the story of Minette, a young, free woman of color in pre-revolutionary Haiti. While her fantastic talent as an opera singer allows her partial entry into white society, she simultaneously experiences a growing political consciousness as revolutionary forces form around her. The complex racial and gendered hierarchies of the era are on full display here in this fascinating historical novel about a time and place that I, for one, know all too little about.— From Caitlin L. Staff Picks
Dance on the Volcano tells the story of two sisters growing up during the Haitian Revolution in a culture that swings heavily between decadence and poverty, sensuality and depravity. One sister, because of her singing ability, is able to enter into the white colonial society otherwise generally off limits to people of color. Closely examining a society sagging under the white supremacy of the French colonist rulers, Dance on the Volcano is one of only novels to closely depict the seeds and fruition of the Haitian Revolution, tracking an elaborate hierarchy of skin color and class through the experiences of two young women. It is a story about hatred and fear, love and loss, and the complex tensions between colonizer and colonized, masterfully translated by Kaiama L. Glover.
About the Author
AUTHOR: Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1916-1973) was a Haitian novelist, poet and playwright. Born and educated in Port-au-Prince, her works include the novels Fille d'Haïti (1954), La Danse sur le Volcan (1957), Fonds des Nègres (1961), and Amour, Colère, Folie (1969).
TRANSLATOR: Kaiama L. Glover received a B.A. in French History and Literature and Afro-American Studies from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in French and Romance Philology from Columbia University. She is now an associate professor of French at Barnard College. Her book, Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon, explores the Haitian Spiralist movement. She has taught English at Stanford University and French at Barnard College and Columbia University, sits on the editorial boards of the Romanic Review and Small Axe, and regularly contributes to The New York Times Book Review.
"Trying to weave a fairy tale life from a horror story reality, Vieux-Chauvet’s heroine, Minette, rides her beauty and talent out of poverty in late-18th-century Port-au-Prince to fame onstage as a singer... [An] important book, best read as a slice of Haiti’s past rather than as a work of fiction." — The New York Times Book Review
A "vivid, heartbreaking epic . . . Vieux-Chauvet is a tremendously gifted storyteller, compared to the likes of Tolstoy. Her work highlights the lasting trauma of racial and class oppression — detailing the ripple effects that spread from one person to the next, and infect one generation after another. But it also shows humanity’s struggle to emerge from the ashes of this hatred, and find love and beauty again ... [a] remarkable work of fiction, which will introduce a new generation of readers to Vieux-Chauvet’s exquisite writing, and its courageous calls for justice." — The Toronto Star
"In Dance on the Volcano, Marie Vieux-Chauvet—one of Haiti’s finest novelists—has given us an exquisitely written portrait of Haiti’s social and political climate, one that's still eerily resonant 300 years later." — Kevin Nguyen, GQ
"Vieux-Chauvet’s novel is that rare gem that takes an ambitious scope and successfully captures the social and political turmoil of a country at war . . . Those interested in Haitian history, deep explorations of social injustice, and courageous, determined heroines will find much to enjoy in Vieux-Chauvet’s masterly tale." — Publishers Weekly
"Marie Vieux-Chauvet's Dance on the Volcano stands with Tolstoy's War and Peace, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, Robert Graves's I, Claudius, and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind in its extraordinary power to bring all the nuance and complexity of a long-gone society so vividly before our eyes. With what's going on racially and politically in the United States today, now is an excellent time for this masterpiece to appear in English – and in a translation which does full justice to the great beauty of Vieux-Chauvet's prose." — Madison Smartt Bell
"Kaiama L. Glover’s translation is fluid, remaining faithful to the elegance of Vieux-Chauvet’s prose while navigating the stylistic concerns inherent to recreating a work written in the 1950s and about the colonial life of the 1790s, for a 21st-century audience...Minette’s story, more than anything else, is about having “a seat at the table,” to use the current resignification of that phrase. For a book written about the racial climate of a late 18th-century French colony, there is an eerie familiarity to the questions it raises about how a person of color earns that seat, and what consequences come along with sitting at the table in a world of institutionalized racism." — Bronwyn Averett, The Quarterly Conversation
"[A] vivid, heartbreaking epic . . . Vieux-Chauvet is a tremendously gifted storyteller, compared to the likes of Tolstoy. Her work highlights the lasting trauma of racial and class oppression — detailing the ripple effects that spread from one person to the next, and infect one generation after another. But it also shows humanity’s struggle to emerge from the ashes of this hatred, and find love and beauty again ... [a] remarkable work of fiction, which will introduce a new generation of readers to Vieux-Chauvet’s exquisite writing, and its courageous calls for justice." — Tara Henley, The Toronto Star
"A heroic and triumphant tale of social ascension." — Curtis Small, San Jose State University
"sharp and beautiful. . . A classic piece of historical fiction, few novels can compete with this one’s combination of personal passion and cultural consciousness." — James Crossley, Island Books
"Dance on the Volcano is one of the the rare, or rather the only novel about the events that took place between 1789 and 1804, written in the 20th century in Haiti." — Anja Bandau, Free University of Berlin
"Dance on the Volcano is not limited to historical clichés, but rather opens up the possibility of the fantastic." — Maurice Joseph, University of Haiti
"With the help of translator Kaiama L. Glover, the reader gets a sense of what it was like to be living on that metaphorical “volcano” known as Saint Domingue that eventually erupted...there are moments of beauty throughout the book, especially when Minette is singing. One becomes so convinced of Minette’s ability to enchant that one wishes it came with a soundtrack. Sadly, the real-life Minette died long before the age of recording. However, while the music may be lost to time, thanks to Chauvet’s book, the person who helped to break down racial barriers during a tumultuous time in Haitian history will not be." — Christopher Iacono, Five 2 One Magazine
"The story is soft and cruel, sweet and bitter like the savors of the Caribbean, which make you smile and grit your teeth at once." — Catherine Hermary-Vieille
"Like a knife thrust into the sexual, social, racial, and political passions of a provincial town" — Libération
"In three movements as somber as they are striking, Marie Vieux-Chauvet explodes Hatian society in the time of dictator François Duvalier, in a classic style stripped of all exotic lyricism.... None of the dark forces that shook the country during this tragic period are forgotten in this novel-manifesto, from which no one comes out innocent." — Le Monde
"Chauvet was nitroglycerin. She set her sights on an illness ravaging Haitian society" — Dany Laferrière
"[Dance on the Volcano] is crucial to a complete understanding of the violent conflict that overtook the country, and the revolution’s importance in world history . . . These racial and political images of Haiti more than two centuries ago, written sixty years ago, remain timely today in that nation, and resonate in the United States. In both countries, “a state of perpetual tension … produce(s) a strange heaviness in the atmosphere.” That volcanic tension keeps erupting, here and in Haiti." — Consequence Magazine