Review: Masters of the Dew by Jacques Roumain
Title: Masters of the Dew
Author: Roumain, Jacques
Translator: Hughes, Langston and Mercer Cook
Length: 190 pages
Genre: Fiction, Life
Publisher / Year: Heinemann / 1944
Why I Read It: I’m really not sure where I first heard of this one…
Date Read: 02/03/12
I’m not sure where I first heard of Roumain, but I’m glad that I did. As J. Michael Dash explains in the introduction, he was a Haitian author from the upper classes who returned after studying in Europe to help lead the revolution against the American occupation. After a short exile he returned to Haiti and worked for the state as a diplomat for a year before his early death. During all of this time he was also working to promote communism and writing novels. His novels are unique because while they fit in the peasant narrative that became popular at that time in Haiti as a way to reclaim a unique Haitian culture, they also do not romanticize but show the negatives as well as the positives of the reliance on superstition and how a lack of education hurts. This book is his most well known work and appears to be the only one to have been translated, which is unfortunate because he is clearly a talented writer.
This novel tells the story of Manuel, a man returning to his home village after living in Cuba and working in the sugar cane fields for 15 years. Upon his return he finds his village suffering from a drought, and the peasants all at the end of their patience with the land, with the hardship of life in the village, and with each other. Manuel dreams and plans of using his experience with the worker strikes in Cuba to bring the peasants back together by finding water and working together to create irrigation channels to bring the fields and crops back.
Through the novel Roumain does a great job of highlighting the ways in which superstitions and beliefs ruled life for those who knew nothing else. Without the scientific knowledge, it’s hard to know how to improve your lot in life as a subsistence farmer, he argues. He also points to the need to work together and help each other out, and keep up the bonds of community and love as the only way to stay strong in the face of oppression and hardship.
A fantastic read that I would encourage anyone to read. A classic that holds up a reality of life for those in Haiti and for those around the world struggling to live off the land against odds that are stacked against them. The writing is truly poetic and the translation by Hughes and Mercer is fantastic.