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Return [Paperback]

Dany Laferriere
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 26 2011

From the Prix Medicis winner comes a haunting meditation on the nature of identity.

Dany Laferriere's most celebrated book since How to Make Love to a Negro, The Return is a bestseller in France and Quebec and the winner of many awards, including the prestigious Prix Medicis and the Grand Prix du livre de Montreal.

At age 23, the narrator, Dany, hurriedly left behind the stifling heat of Port-au-Prince for the unending winter of Montreal. It was 1976, and Baby Doc Duvalier's regime had just killed one of his journalist colleagues. Thirty-three years later, a telephone call informs Dany of his father's death in New York. Windsor Laferriere had fled Haiti in the 1960s, fearing persecution for his political activities. After the funeral, Dany plans to return his father to Baraderes, the village in Haiti where he was born. It is not the body he will take, but the spirit.

How does one return from exile? In acutely observed details, Dany reveals his affection for his father and for the land of his birth. Translated by two-time Governor General's Award-winner David Homel, The Return blends the gritty reality of daily life with the lush sensuality and ecstatic mystery that underlie Haitian culture. It is the novel of a great writer.

Longlisted for the 2012 International Impac Dublin Literary Award


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Review

"A stunning and breathtaking book. By far among the best by this extraordinarily talented writer, who so deeply and miraculously touches our hearts, minds, and funny bone all at the same time." (Edwidge Danticat, author of "Breath, Eyes, Memory" 2011-04-13)

"The Return is like a whole life that suddenly explodes as a Big Bang, libertaing the past and the present, dreams and reality, North and South, hot and cold, life and death, exile and return, those who stay and those who go...It is a book to savor, a long poem that demans more than one reading." (Chantal Guy La Presse 2011-08-29)

"The Return is, as its French title explicitly states, enigmatic, a powerful, wrenching book that is not easily explained or understood...The Return is, as [Chantal Guy] concludes, 'a book to savour...that demands more than one reading.'" (T.F. Rigelhof Globe & Mail 2011-09-23)

"[Laferriere's] prose has always had the ability to wrap itself around the reader's organs and take hold, slowly at first, before becoming a part of the body. This novel is no different, digging deep through a minefield of emotional and physical detail with compassionate honesty...a stunning and breathtaking book, and is easily one of his best." (Rob McLennan 2011-10-10)

"It's a richly haunting novel, with prose melting into poetry." (Uptown Magazine 2011-10-13)

"Laferriere's book is a purposeful contemplation on the concept of exile and father/son relations, and of course the search for identity...What makes The Return so captivating is the use of language when he describes Montreal and Haiti, the differences and the similarities. His feelings of alienation for each geography changes with what he sees. How could it not?" (Telegraph-Journal 2011-10-22)

"The Return masterfully reconnects the past and present with the harsh realities of life and death...It is a book that will touch your heart and demand to be read more than once." (Toronto Quarterly 2011-11-14)

"Someone once told me there are only two real stories: someone leaves home, and a stranger comes to town. This tale considers both of these real stories and offers insights into the father-son relationship and the question of home and exile. Laferriere's keen eye and bared heart stayed with me long after I finished his beautiful elegy."

(Waterloo Region Record 2011-11-18)

"...Half prose, half poetry, The Return is a finely crafted autobiographical account of the authorís voyage back to his place of birth...The Return is replete with thought-provoking observations about the human condition, from the dynamics and cyclical nature of power in Haiti to the preoccupation with hunger and finding one's next meal. Laferriere's writing is poetic, profound and beautiful...A single reading of this novel will yield its beauty and thoughtfulness, but to fully appreciate it warrants a second reading. For anyone who has lost a parent, this is a must-read." (Rover Arts 2012-03-18)

About the Author

Dany Laferrière worked as a journalist in his native Haiti during the notorious Duvalier regime, immigrating to Canada in 1976. He is the author of several acclaimed novels and the recipient of numerous awards, including the Prix RFO du Livre 2002 and Le Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal 2009, and in 2009 he was named Quebec Personality of the Year.

David Homel has translated over 30 books, many by Quebec authors. He won the Governor General's Literary Award in translation in 1995 for Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex? by Dany Laferrière; his translation of Laferrière's How to Make Love to a Negro was nominated in 1988; and he won the prize in 2001 with fellow translator Fred A. Reed for Fairy Wing. His novels, which include Sonya & Jack, Electrical Storms, and The Speaking Cure have been published in several languages. Homel lives in Montreal, Quebec.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars jaimelire Nov. 2 2011
Format:Paperback
M. Laferriere is one good writer. This book is poesy in prose, so beautifully written that I could savor each sentence with delight.I read it twice and I keep this book as precious litterature. Will read it again in my old age!!!!My only disappointment is that I already read this book in french(l'enigme du retour" )and I thought this was his latest book about life in Haiti... L'enigme du retour" and "pays sans chapeau" are his best on my opinion. Just delicious writing.I am still waiting for his next book. I am thrilled that Laferriere has been translated in english. better read it in french, if you can.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant. May 12 2012
Format:Paperback
This is a BRILLIANT book. How to describe it? Part poetry, party novel, part meditation. Dany Laferriere uses language and form in a way that is unique and perfect for this work. The novel/memoir/poem begins with the author-narrator learning of the death of his estranged father in New York. Windsor Laferriere left Haiti in the 1960s, fleeing the persecution of Papa Doc Duvalier's brutal regime, just as Dany would later leave it in 1976, fleeing the similarly savage repression of Baby Doc Duvalier. Fathers and sons. Legacies of loss.

We follow the narrator to NYC, where he looks upon the body of the father he has not seen in fifty years, in his coffin. He begins to touch him, and then chooses not to, honoring the distance his father preferred. It's a heartbreaking moment, and there are many of them in this book.

While it's true that were I a poetry critic, perhaps I would find fault with the technical aspects of some of the poetry (Are some of the lines cliche? Are some of the images too abstract? Some of the line break arbitrary?). However, I am not a poetry critic, but rather a prose writer and novelist, and so I look at the work as a whole, as a narrative, and I judge it by it's capacity to move me, to broaden my empathy and to care about the characters. By this measure, it could not be more successful. This work is piquant with loss, spiced with longing. It is also political -- the discussion of hunger as the essential Haitian experience is powerful, as are the sections with his nephew, also named Dany. "We didn't know you were coming back," says his sister by way of explanation.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where is home? Jan. 18 2013
By Friederike Knabe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
On his last day in Montreal, the "cold white city where I've known the strongest passions" and his "home" for several decades, Wilbert reflects on exile and loss:
"Exile in time is more pitiless / Than exile in space.
I miss / My childhood more intensely / than my country."

What must it feel like to return to the country of your birth and childhood that you have not visited and experienced in more than thirty years? And, that you had to leave in the dead of night after friends and associates disappeared or where found dead... Why go back at all, what will it mean? Told in the first person, Dany Laferrière has written this outstanding and strangely absorbing novel that appears to be an amalgam of imaginative fiction and subtly disguised real life memoir, set against his poetically evoked country of birth and youth: Haiti.

Surprisingly, the book opens with a long poem, introducing the reader from the outset to the author's inventive way of telling his story: alternating throughout between poetry and prose. I must admit that, not being a great fan of poetry, I was initially reluctant to immerse myself in The Return (L'Enigme de retour) when I first held the French original in my hands. Yet, once I started, I became very quickly and totally immersed in Laferriere's ways of writing with its mix of prose, relating encounters and events and poetry, evoking surroundings or reflecting on observations or emotions. The narrative flows seamlessly between the two styles, each with its own rhythms and different tone and 'feel' of language, yet harmoniously combined so that after a while you are no longer conscious of the poetry or prose sections. The novel has been exquisitely translated by David Homel.

Why go back? A phone call in the night brings the news that his father, who spend most of the son's life in exile, has died in New York. It is only the son who can bring the devastating news to the mother, left behind in her village. Wilbert embarks on the journey that takes him on a meandering path via New York to Haiti, cautiously rediscovering what he remembers of his childhood days, making connections first with strangers, exploring the city, Port au Prince, staying away from family and friends. Slowly, he connects again with his nephew and then his sister and, after reaching a certain comfort level, does he feel strong enough emotionally to visit his mother and, even later, search for his father's village and people. Both parents and their stories come alive in his memories and his poems.

The title of the French original conveys an important aspect of the novel that the English translation cannot: the "enigma" of returning. The evocation of mystery is prominent and the Wilbert's journey is as much into the known past as into the unknown present and future. In physical terms it is expressed through recognizing changed landscapes, changed circumstances of the people he knew. Yet, for me even captivating is the psychological level where the middle aged man has to confront his childhood longings, how he may be able to bring the past and the present into some form of balance and ultimately, who he is and where he should be. Where is home? [Friederike Knabe]
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