(11/25/2014)  The Pencil Of God by Philippe Thoby-Marcelin and Pierre Marcelin. Boston. 1951. Houghton Mifflin. hardcover. 204 pages. Cover: Anne Marie Jauss. Translated from the French by Leonard Thomas. keywords: Literature Translated Haiti Caribbean Black. 078144554X.


   In their latest novel, THE PENCIL OF GOD, the Marcelin brothers strike a new note. The first novel, CANAPÊ VERT, was awarded the prize by John Dos Passos in the Latin-American contest. OF CANAPÉ VERT and THE BEAST OF THE HAITIAN HILLS, Waldo Frank has said: ‘The novels of the Marcelins capture the profound rhythms of Haitian life, and reveal both the folkloric roots and the social actuality of a dramatic unique people.’ With the Haitian exposition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of their liberation, the spotlight is on Haiti. The Marcelins emerge more clearly than ever as the eloquent representatives of a literature which has at last come into its own. THE PENCIL OF GOD writes hard and fast when it writes; and the Haitians it say the pencil of God has no eraser. This is a novel of the strange half-lit world which exists in Haiti between the church and voodoo, and of a simple devout man, Diogene Cyprien, a small warehouse owner, whose weakness is an everlasting and virile love of the ladies. In his last fling, the very dissimulation and craftiness which he has used to attain his heart’s desire is boomeranged back to him by his love’s old female relatives, who place a voodoo curse on him. His life becomes a series of freak disasters - tongues clack in the provincial, small-town atmosphere of Saint-Marc. The gossip that he is a werewolf, a fiend, a consort of evil spirits, at first a whisper, becomes a deafening roar. Like a swimmer pulled by the tide between the sharks and the reefs, Diogene is pulled between the church and voodoo. The curse is the curse of gossip and suspicion, which can be as effective in Boston or New York or anywhere else as it is in Haiti. THE PENCIL OF GOD is not an explanation of why Haitians believe in voodoo or why it works, but of the subtle suggestive process of how. In THE PENCIL OF GOD the Marcelin brothers present that society halfway between Paris and Africa, half civilized and half primitive. Edmund Wilson has said: ‘They have an interest and importance something like that of Silone.’ It is not unusual in Haiti for a son to prefix his mother’s maiden name to his surname, and Philippe Thoby-Marcelin has availed himself of this custom, while his brother, Pierre Marcelin, has not. Both, however, were born of the same parents in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the heirs to a family literary tradition. Their maternal grandfather, Armand Thoby, attained eminence as a Haitian author as did an uncle, Perceval Thoby, who specialized in political writings. Their father, Emile Marcelin, in addition to having a political career which culminated in the posts of Minister of Finance and Haitian Minister to Cuba, was a novelist and literary critic. Their formal education was entrusted to the Catholic clergy of Haiti’s novels of Haiti’s private schools while their informal education was accomplished - at least in part - by the writers and political leaders who made the Marcelin home in Port-au-Prince a gathering place. Their paternal grandmother, Heloise Marcelin, the foremost pianist of her time, exerted an influence on their artistic education. Philippe Thoby-Marcelin has borne the responsibility for much of Haiti’s renaissance in the arts and was a leader in the avant-garde literary movement there. As a member of the group which centered around ‘La Revue Indigène’ he took a strong stand against the imitation of French writing which has been the custom with his literary forebears. The tenets of this circle were frankly nationalistic and stemmed from the belief that their cultural heritage was the strongest weapon against any deleterious influences from the United States. By writing as Haitians, speaking the language of their own people and their own times, they strove to encourage a respect for values native to Haitians and to all black peoples. ‘We were called - with a certain good humor to be sure - these young messieurs of La Revue Indigeste’ (The Indigestible Review),’ says Mr. Thoby-Marcelin. ‘We were very unjust toward our elders whom we accused of having failed at everything, particularly in guarding our country’s independence. We did not take the obstacles into account and we failed to see that after all they had advanced, that in many ways they had prepared the way for us.’



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