By Rosa Guy Dutton, New York, 1995 ISBN # 0-525-24780-7 $22.95
A review by Bob Corbett
Jonnie Dash, one of the most intriguing characters I've encountered in fiction, has arrived in Haiti in the early days of Jean-Claude Duvalier's regime. She comes on the bizarre romantic mission of reuniting, unannounced, with her Haitian lover of some 30 years ago.
But nothing is quite as it seems. Novelist Rosa Guy hides Jonnie Dash from us, only slowing revealing her, startling us with relevant and unexpected bits of biography as the story unfolds. Jonnie Dash is in danger of complete madness. Her Haitian odyssey is an attempt to save herself.
An orphan who raised herself on the streets of Harlem, factory worker, and pygmalian experiment of her Haitian lover, has become a rich and famous black American artist, famous especially for the huge penises she so loves to draw.
Little by little Jonnie Dash enters into the dark Haitian world of intrigue, Tonton Macoutes, and even kidnapping and death.
Rosa Guy creates the world of an expatriate community primarily centered around an Oloffson-like hotel. Yet she knows and reveals much of the Haitian reality with astonishing subtlety and accuracy. This is the story of Jonnie Dash, not of Haiti. Yes Guy knows Haiti with the trained eye of a careful observer, reveling in her strengths, but unafraid to reveal her seamy side too. Guy is a masterful storyteller, gripping us into the web of conspiracy, uncertainty, shocking revelations from the characters' pasts. The book builds toward a crescendo of violence and terror, imaged by the coming of a crushing hurricane.
Guy creates such a total person in Jonnie Dash. A successful artist, near-senior citizen who nonetheless has kept and even enhanced her physical beauty, a raw sexual person, passionate, intelligent, courageous and mad. It will be a long time before I get Jonnie Dash out of my mind. I don't feel like I read a fictional story. It's more like I've met an astonishing person and she shared her autobiography with me, mesmerizing me in the process.
This is a book not to be missed. The plot is strong, the characters numerous, varied and incredibly exotic. The writing strong and gripping. The only aggravating characteristic of Guy's story is a bit of sloppiness in keeping her dates straight and there are several revelations of ages and dates that just don't match up from one place in the story to another.
Author Rosa Guy was born in Trinidad, but raised in the United States from the age of 7. She first drew praise with her books for youth and then earned critical acclaim with her novel A MEASURE OF TIME.
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