Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow
by Fabienne Josaphat
The Unnamed Press
Date: February 23, 2016
Reviewed by: Kelsey May
Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow:
An Action-Packed, Emotional Debut from Fabienne Josaphat
Walking the line between historical fiction and adventure novel, Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow explores the mid-regime world of 1965 Haiti. The story follows two brothers: Raymond, a taxi driver and father of two, and Nicolas, a professor at a prestigious law school and a father of a newborn daughter. The entire nation lives in a violent, fear-stricken state under the rule of “Papa Doc” and his Tonton Macoutes, gun-slinging brawlers who punish anyone who speaks or acts out against the regime.
The story begins on an average evening. Raymond is waiting for his passenger to finish visiting a brothel when a handful of Macoutes roll up in a Jeep. They’re after a popular radio show host, Milot Sauveur, who spoke out against the government’s public killing of a hospital patient. In a split second decision, Raymond agrees to help Milot and his family flee. A high-speed chase ensues, and Raymond loses his fare for the day but gains a friend.
When he returns home, his wife, Yvonne, is outraged at his lack of sense. With two young daughters, he cannot afford to risk his life for strangers, she argues. Besides, they’ve fallen on tough times, thanks to the Macoutes’ strict enforcement of an early curfew, which cuts Raymond’s prime taxi hours short. Yvonne demands that he ask his brother, Nicolas, for a loan, and Raymond must swallow his pride to do so.
Meanwhile, Nicolas is facing his own battles. He has secretly compiled an entire manuscript of carefully researched evidence linking Papa Doc and an infamous prison guard to the death of a respected journalist. He is seeking to publish the manuscript abroad, but he stirs up some trouble when he lectures a little too aggressively against the government in his classroom.
Several chapters later, Nicolas is sentenced, without trial or bail, to prison to await execution, and Raymond must choose between following Yvonne and his daughters out of the country or saving the brother who always looked down on him. Josaphat weaves a lyrical tale of betrayal, secrecy, and, how loyalty strives against all odds to protect and heal the broken bonds of brotherhood. The gruesome portrayal of prison life and life under a tyrannical ruler grips readers, yet the tale is balanced with tender moments, such as Raymond’s precious scene with his niece, Amélie:
Amélie rested her face against Raymond’s chest and he sighed. He missed Adeline and Enos. He held her closer as if to compensate for their absence. Amélie was round and chubby, her skin almost as delicate as a spider web. She was different from his own children, who were frail like small twigs and black like the night; his children, who smelled like the lemongrass leaves they stirred at night in their tea when there was nothing to eat for dinner. He felt overcome with a wave of grief.
Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow places itself elegantly on the shelf with other Caribbean and Latin American historical fiction novels set in countries ruled by dictators, such as In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez and Junot Diaz’s masterful The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Looking for a fast-paced, emotionally turbulent novel? Josaphat’s first novel is a short, thoroughly satisfying story on how family can outwit the enemy in even the most desperate circumstances.
Kelsey May is a member of the Diatribe collective and a regular contributor to SkipFiction. She is passionate about social justice and activism and is beginning a series of essays about community policing. Her work has recently appeared in Broken Plate, Pine Hills Review, and NonBinary Review. She has also received numerous grants and awards, including a nomination for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. She is excited to get outdoors this summer by hiking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and maybe, if she really gets her act together, camping.