on June 7, 2000
Not long after Haiti's liberation from French colonial rule, King Henri-Christophe reigned through an era of chaos, violence, superstition and socio-political upheaval.
Carpentier details the story of this era, and the eventual overthrowing of Henri-Christophe's black regime, through the narrative of slave Ti-Noel.
For me, the interesting thing about this book was the way in which Carpentier shows how the black regime failed on the same sort of grounds that caused the French regime to become corrupt, outwardly oppulent and inwardly self-destructive. I find it very reminiscent of the sort of dialogue popularized by Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" where he explains how, in an effort to overthrow an oppressive system of education (but this has to work, to some extent, for politics, culture, etc) the rebels end up instituting essentially the same sort of system---only with themselves at the top instead of bottom.
The novel also deals convincingly with issues of cultural patrimony, the occult, and obviously with historical and political scenario. As with many of his books, Carpentier combines a strong dedication to the factual or realistic history with allegory, metaphor and allusion.
The writing style is fairly dense and I did find it difficult to read the novel straight through. However, I found the read very rewarding and also enlightening.
on January 10, 1998
This is Magical Realism at it's best. As in Alende's The House of Spirits, magic and unearthly powers are commonplace in the world of this novel.
Dead men rise from the ashes and the reader believes this is so.
Carpentier paints a vivid portrait of colonial Haiti, depicting the racial strife and class wars that are par for the course in such a world.
The protagonist, Ti Noel, is a product of this colonial system: no longer African, but not exactly French. Where, Carpentier seems to ask, does Ti Noel beling? And to whom?
Carpentier's prose is beautiful, his images are vivid and stiking: one can picture the vast plantation, so far from the city....the row of powdered wigs on their stands...the look on Ti Noel's face when he realizes revolution does not add up to personal freedom.
A near perfect novel, Ti Noel and his story will stay with you long after you've read it.
on November 18, 1998
The Kingdom of the World is truly extraordinary, exquisitely crafted and overwhelming in its human implications. In it historical fiction and magical realism come together to produce a masterful work of art and an unforgettable story about the triumph of human dignity in the midst of destruction and senseless horror. Using as a setting one of the most bizarre episodes in history (the Haitian independence and its aftermath), Carpentier tells a mesmerizing story that reveals human beings in all their complexity, contradictions and pervesity, but also in their extraordinary power of survival and redemption. A literary masterpiece of the highest order.
on July 28, 2004
The Kingdom of This World loosely traces the life of Ti Noel, a solitary Negro who is a slave first under the yoke of a heartless white man, then under the infinitely more brutal reign of a former Negro slave, and finally, upon attaining old age and discovering the voodoo magic that is inherent in all Haiti men, he becomes a slave to his own flesh, to the ideals of humanity, and to the artificial thoughts and designs of man.
Carpentier's writing evokes an older time, we can practically feel the sun-drenched lakes and the harsh yellow earth of Noel's homeland. The French are the masters here, they herd Negroes about as cattle, using them to build, to tend, to feed, to nurture. Unmarried French men have no problem with using a Negro woman for a 'bed-warmer', and even less with throwing her to the meanest and darkest jobs available once their marriage is secured. Uprisings are common, and carry the hint of the magical about them, but eventually, the French always seem to prevail. Until the one armed insurgent, Macandal. Using ancient magic, he poisons the French, killing hundreds in an unseen storm of death that spares no-one, not the women, not the children. When he is finally apprehended, he uses magic to escape and the Negroes laugh at the hopeless French, while the white men look on, puzzled, at the 'callous black men' laughing as their leader dies.
Noel manages to secure freedom from slavery when he is an old man, and he returns to the place where he was first a slave, where he first met Macandal, to see what has become of this place. There, King Henri Christophe, a self-proclaimed Negro king who does little more than imitate court-life of the Europeans, is building a towering citadel with the blood of other Negroes. Noel is horrified that a black man would enslave another black man, and what is worse is that the King's dealings with the slaves are much more severe and unforgiving than the white men ever were. It is here that a mirror is placed up to the Negroes, Noel does not like what he sees.
The writing is very illustrative; scenes and times are painted in our mind's eyes with ease. The narrator manages to place himself very far away from the narration, unwilling to pass judgment on either the black men or the white, instead reserving this to the reader. Noel himself is never used as a mere mouthpiece for the author's ideas, instead he is the observer, from youth to old age, from sadness to sadness. When he discovers magic and tries to introduce himself into the animal's way of life, he does not succeed, and is instead forced to learn how to be a human living amongst humans, no matter how unfair, how violent, how short-sighted they may be.
But this distance hurts the novel, too. Since the narrator never really enters the minds and hearts of the characters, we are left with largely ambiguous motives. Also, the voodoo of the Negroes is something that was lost on me, and I was unable to ascertain whether this extensive witchcraft was used as a writing tool to display good, evil, or neither. The shortness of the novel is actually a hindrance, as too little time is spent fleshing out scenes that might benefit from it. However, in the end, this novel serves as a wonderful fable of what it is to be a man living in a world that he may not agree with, as well as illuminating some of the darker periods of history that we have experienced.
on April 26, 2015
"The Kingdom of This World" ("El reino de este mundo" in the original Spanish) is one of the most important novels of the 20th century, in any language. It started a true literary revolution which can be seen in the work of more known writers like Gabriel García Márquez. I read the book in Spanish, but wanted to gift it to a friend who only read in English, so I bought this translation. Almost immediately, I noticed something very wrong: this translation does not include the prologue by the author himself, which was not only in the original publication of the book, but continues to be published in Spanish-language copies of the book, and for good reason- this prologue is, arguably, as important as the novel itself. It describes the authors ideologically important visit to Haiti in 1943, and reads as a sort of manifesto for Carpentier's notion of "Lo real maravilloso," that is, the real and the marvelous coexisting in the daily life of Haiti and other Latin American countries. Many consider Carpentier to be the father of magical realism, and the term itself may have come from Carpentier's terminology. This prologue is so important that several literary anthologies have collected it without including any of the rest of the novel.
I can't imagine why the publisher felt the need to include an introduction written by someone else, especially while eliminating the important introduction by the author himself. By all means, read the novel, but be aware that either the translator or publisher have foolishly omitted an integral piece of the work, which is essential to its full comprehension.
The crux of the novel is the traumatic and brutal evolution of Haiti's history after liberation from the colonial French rule, when the black regime of King Henri Christophe, at first so promising, sinks into the same morass of social injustice as the former rulers. For years the blacks suffer the yoke of white oppression, clinging to their African gods, ritual superstitions the only balm to a tortured existence: "Oh father, my father, how long is the suffering?" The social order is built upon exploitation of the many for the comfort of the few, the servant class treated as beasts of burden, beaten, beheaded and used to slake the intemperate urges of white masters. A verdant jungle of natural beauty, Haiti has the appearance of paradise and, for the blacks, the reality of hell, the indulgence and decadence of the plantation owners in counterpoint to the misery of the enslaved.
History is revealed through the eyes of a slave, Ti Noel, and through him the social duplicity is exposed. Drawn to the tribal wisdom and ancestral stories of Macandal, Ti Noel reflects the yearning of the slave population for a release from long injustice. Resorting to folk wisdom, voodoo ceremonies and ancestral worship of ancient animus, Macandal whips his followers into a revolt that comes to fruition one fateful night, the drums of bloody opportunity beating across the island as machete-bearing slaves overrun the sleeping plantations, slaughtering all in their path, masters, livestock, women and children. Once the uprising is put down, the search for Macandal proves fruitless, although he is eventually discovered, captured and burned before the downcast eyes of the slaves. The believers see only Macandal's spirit rise from the flames, knowing he will return in other forms to guide them.
Having survived the treachery, Ti Noel's master escapes with him to Santiago de Cuba, where the he embarks on a life of decadence, the slave finally lost in a card game. Years later, returning to Haiti a free man, Ti Noel is confronted with a changed island, now ruled by King Henri Christophe, a black kingdom, the black royalty inflicting the same pain as the white masters, the natural enslavement of the powerless, Christophe's every achievement purchased on the backs of the oppressed. Ti Noel despairs this "endless cycle of chains", convinced that freedom is but an idea, a despot forever hovering in the wings of history. In brilliant imagery and bloody prose, Haiti's drama unfolds, the pomp and grandeur of the new regime constructed from the same contempt for human life as the French and destined fro the same destruction: insurrection fueled by madness and the slaughter of the oppressor. Luan Gaines/ 2006.
on February 11, 2015
Magical Realism at it's best.
I was originally drawn to this story after reading
Madison Smartt Bell’s Haitian Revolution Trilogy and Toussaint Louverture leading the world’s only successful slave revolt.
This story, for all the voodoo and brutality, is told in a amazing music like prose. Just beautiful.
It is the story of the western hemisphere’s only black King. Henri Christophe who rose from being a slave to a king with palaces, although he more than mirrored the brutality of the previous regimes.
The story is told through the eye’s of a slave who had been won in a card game and takes you on through his entire life.
The novel is somehow much bigger than it seems and is impossible to describe adequately.
An amazing part of history that is largely unknown.
Ti Noel and his story will hang with you for a very long time.
on December 22, 2015
"That this book is so short seems almost miraculous." But the execution is almost flawless. The narrative breezes by but all the important points are covered, and through the eyes of the slave Ti Noel we see the "proof of the uselessness of all revolt." From freedom from the French slave masters to the rebirth of suffering under King Henri Christophe, made even worse by "the limitless affront in being beaten by a Negro as black as oneself," "when the death of a slave was no drain on the public funds" because there were always black women to bear more children. And Ti Noel lives on disillusioned in this new world which the former heroes could never have foreseen, and his magical encounter with the geese makes it clear to him that even geese are partial and that all geese are not created equal. Carpentier's novel puts on full blast a haunting truth that still lives on today: Not all revolts are helpful, and "a man never knows for whom he suffers and hopes...he toils for people he will never know...for man always seeks a happiness far beyond that which is meted out to him." But this is the greatness of man, in always wanting to be better than he is, a greatness that can only be found in the face of afflictions and trials, which no one can truly avoid so long as we live on in The Kingdom of This World.
on March 4, 2015
In the forward, Edwidge Danticat says "Alejo Carpentier allows us to consider the possibility - something which his own Cuba would later grapple with - that a revolution that some consider visionary might appear to others to have failed." And so it is that a successful slave rebellion against French colonial rule leads to a brief but brutal regime led by a former slave, which in the end, leads to the emergence of mulattoes as the ruling class. Carpentier blends magical realism with historical events in a believable way and takes the reader to the darker side of Haiti.
on December 22, 2009
The Haitian revolution is the only successful slave revolt in the history of the world. It is an incredible story, which has been told well by many great authors. This is one of them. Carpentier's novel traces the history of the conflict through the eyes of TiNoel, a slave on the estate of the French planter Lenormand de Mezy in the Plaine du Nord on the fertile north of the French colony of Ste Domingue. The first historical character we meet is Francois Mackandal or Macandal, who attempted to kill the planters with poison and create a free black nation. Next we meet Dutty Boukman or Bouckman, who launched the revolution at a Vodou ceremony at Bois Caiman in August 1791. We learn about the terror, the struggle, and the flight of the French as TiNoel accompanies his master to Cuba. We are introduced to the French General Leclerc, who is sent to Ste Domingue with an army and fleet to reestablish French control, and also meet his wife Pauline Bonaparte and her masseur Soliman. TiNoel returns to Ste Domingue and journeys to the palace of Sans Souci, where he is forced to work on the construction of Le Citadelle La Ferriere and takes part in the sacking of the empire of Henri Christophe, the black king of northern Haiti. The book ends with the flight of Henri's Queen and daughters, as well as Soliman, to Italy. The main omission in this story is Toussaint L'Ouverture, who is barely mentioned, and he is the most important character in the revolution. The book is ultimately about life, about struggles to achieve greatness, whether it be a plantation or an empire, and about suffering and ruin. Carpentier ends his story by noting that "In the Kingdom of Heaven there is no grandeur to be won", therefore "man finds his greatness, his fullest measure, only in The Kingdom of This World". It would be good to read up on the Haitian Revolution before starting your read. The Wikipedia account will suffice.