Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Leopard of Ti Mourne

“The Leopard of Ti Morne” by Mark Kurlansky. Haiti Noir. edited by Edwidge Danticat.

So, what is noir? Glad you asked. Here’s the essence: You’re a nobody, you try to be more, you get shafted and end up in a worse place than you started (likely dead or in jail).

The various books in the Akashic Press Noir Cities series have hundreds of stories, and probably the majority of them don’t fit that description very well. Some have nothing in common with it except being pessimistic.

Kurlansky’s story is probably the story in Haiti Noir that comes closest to my definition. That’s not the reason it’s my favorite, but I admit it helps.

The story is funny, in parts, at least. Our nobody-hero is Izzy Goldstein a Miami Beach Jewish guy who “felt in his heart that he was really Haitian.” After years of eating Haitian food, hanging around in Little Haiti, and learning Creole he decides it’s time to do something for his spiritual home. He buys a boat and starts a charity. Not surprisingly, the sharks start to circle, and I am not talking about the ocean.

Kurlansky makes nice use of Haitian mythology. It isn’t a major part of the story but he ties tales of the lwas, Vodou spirits, into the chain of events that Izzy accidentally starts.

Another main character is the wealthy Madame Dumas, very real, but effectively the spirit of malevolent greed that distorts everything Izzy tries to accomplish.

She was wrapped in a thick red fox coat. Her body stuck out at angles, a hard thin body. Her straightened black hair was swept up on her head. She wore shiny dark-purple lip gloss with an even darker liner. Her green eyes were also traced in black, which matched the carefully painted polish on her long nails filed to severe points. All this dark ornamentation on her gaunt face made her skin look pale with a fat finish, like gray cardboard.

Another good (and noir) story in the book is Katia D. Ulysse’s “The Last Department.” It’s full of wonderful writing, but the ending didn’t satisfy me.

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