By Hans Christoph Buch
Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Publishers, New York, 1986
ISBN: 0-15-195598-0 (Hardback)
Reviewed by Bob Corbett
Appended comments from Annegret Honore
Subtitled "A Novel," Buch interesting book is certainly not that. It's actually three rather unrelated pieces about Haiti. First a wonderfully funny piece on the Haitian Revolution, which features an alligator as the central character. Buch's writing here is fantastic, flitting back and forth from the historical to the magical and even silly. It's a fresh and delightful look at the revolution.
The second offering is a version of the Luders' affair. Emil Luders, a German citizen living in Haiti, seems to have committed a minor crime and received a minor sentence. However, Luders' pressured his government to intervene, and two stubborn countries, each unwilling to back down, drag the Luders' affair into an international confrontation which brings German warships to Haiti.
Buch's approaches this affair by writing a series of letters and diplomatic correspondence. We hear the story from many sides--Luders' own tale, the German Consul, the Haitian Minister, the press and even the American diplomatic corps. Buch's handling is both historically accurate and humorous, underlining the silliness, pomposity and preposterousness of the diplomatic dealing.
Both these stories are interesting, and Buch strives for originality in writing style. But he is at his best when writing about his own family. The third and final section is the story of his own relatives in Port-au-Prince, beginning with his grandfather, Louis Buch. He follows his life in Haiti and entertains us with his dreams, dealings and death.
The writing is fun, often captivating and usually entertaining. But, this does not hang together as a novel. It comes across as three relatively unrelated historical/fiction sketches, each in a very different and incompatible writing style. Buch seems to have been practicing various approaches to telling stories. All three of them are well done, but the book would have hung together better had he concentrated on a single style and written a single story. Perhaps he had three novels and simply not enough energy….
Oct. 15, 2001Annegret Honore
Dear Mr. Corbett,
Recently I visited your Haiti page and read your review of The Marriage at Port-au-Prince by Hans Christoph Buch.
I perceived the The Marriage at Port-au-Prince as the story of Mr. Buch's family from the very beginning, where we meet some of his Haitian ancestors (Dr. Dupuy, Laraque and Vincent et al) during the Haitian revolution. The Lueder's affair brings Mr. Buch's grandfather from Germany to Haiti where he buys the Maison Lueder after Mr. Lueder's departure. In part 3, after the death of his wife Pauline, Louis Buch marries the daughter of Mme. Dupuy and the family Buch becomes "Haïtiano-Allemande".
The last Buch living in Haiti was Mlle. Jeanne Buch (see dedication "to my aunt Jeanne…"), who resided in Petionville, Rue Admiral Killick (remember the commandor of the Haitian Fleet who drank himself senseless when the warships arrived in the harbor of P-au-P?). She is still listed in the Telephone Book and if this listing is up to date, she must be close to 100 years now. The Laraque, Stecher, Streitwolf, Vincent and Dupuy families continue in Haiti.
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