Makenzy Orcel’s new novel A human sum is in the spotlight in this second part of the literary chronicle Chemins d’Ecriture dedicated to this Haitian writer. This sumptuous and dark novel tells of contemporary France seen through the eyes of a young French woman in her thirties, who died of not having known prevent his demons from taking his life into his own hands “. A human sum is the seventh novel by Makenzy Orcel.
The new novel that the Haitian writer Makenzy Orcel just published is part of a vast trilogy, which strikes by its imaginative scale, its inventiveness and its poetic breath. An ambitious literary project, which sails between history and the contemporary, reality and magic, life and death. At the heart of the triptych, three destinies of women, women who speak beyond death to tell their stories. A human sum which has just been published this fall is the second part of this trilogy.
After the first volume animal shadow which featured an old Haitian woman whose voice rises from the bowels of the Caribbean, this new novel is the French counterpart of the trilogy and which will be followed, says the author, by an American saga. The protagonists of the three volumes have in common their positioning beyond death, the space-time from which they address the readers. Being on the other side of life allows them to see everything, to understand everything by overcoming the paradoxes and limitations of human existence, as the author explained to RFI: ” There is a Haitian saying or proverb that goes: “he or she who is dead is in the truth and we the living are in a lie”. What could death tell us about life? I find that as a point of view, it is interesting. Everything becomes clear from death, from the moment you pass the door from life to death and you have the impression of having a gripping view, a global, total, absolute view of life, on the three dimensions of time, the past, the present and the future. »
The heroine ofA human sum dies from the first pages of the book. We learn about the plot through the notebooks she left behind. The novel reads like an autobiography from beyond the grave of this young French woman, thirty years old, damaged by the cruelties of life. Her miseries began at an early age when she grew up in a small provincial town, neglected by her parents and a victim of the prevailing social conservatism. She will find a time refuge with her grandmother who transmits to her the keys to the enigma of existence by making her glimpse ” exceptional harmony at the origin of life, but she will not be able to protect her granddaughter from the threats that await her.
The irreversible wandering
A new chapter in the life of the protagonist begins when, raped by a monstrous and manipulative uncle, she escapes to Paris. Now mistress of her life, she hopes to realize her dream of becoming a “slammer” and finding true love, but cannot help but let herself be devoured by the big city. Reduced to irreversible abandonment and wandering, she kills herself by throwing herself under the subway tracks.
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Until the end, readers will not know the name of the protagonist because she is both “her” and representative of many young women of her time whose experiences of frustration, violence and incompleteness she shares. It is this tragic quest through the human forest swarming with predators that Makenzy Orcel’s novel recounts. ” In A human sumit is the voice of a young woman who speaks to us from her village and then from Paris, explains the author. She tells us the social history of France. And then the family as a circle, as a nucleus, as a home to tell where the violence that people are experiencing in this society today comes from. How we construct this violence and how we use it as a tool of oppression, or how we can produce happiness from these circles. And then, we follow this voice through its encounters which are just as important as its voice. When she meets this old woman on the stairs of her building, it allowed me to immerse the reader in this occupied France. It’s the Second World War, the question of the Holocaust, the Jewish question. And when she met Orcel, the young Malian on the RER A, it allowed me to tell the story of immigration, what I call “headless bodies”..
The mad logorrhea
Both a human and a social comedy, a training novel with the rise of heroin in Paris, a fantastic story with the irruption of magical figures such as a Child-horse arousing general excitement in the village square, A human sum is also a wonderful language adventure. The odyssey of the young protagonist is told through a flow of words and sentences that flout the rules of punctuation, mixing prose and poetry, dazzling, inventiveness and the rawest realism. A crazy logorrhea that places Makenzy Orcel’s novel somewhere between Ulysses and the Father Goriotas the author points out:
“ Ulysses made a big impression on me. It is a book that is crossed by all possible forms of writing. There are poems, tales, novels, endless philosophical questions and towards the end blocks of sentences, without punctuation. In animal shadow and A human sum, my sentences are punctuated by commas, but it’s Joyce. There are moments, especially towards the end, you feel like you’re on a boat, on a raging ocean. And there is another writer who marked me a lot, it was Balzac. In Goriot, he immerses us in the details. I learned with the great poets to find a language to make these details bearable. Sometimes it can be discouraging for the reader, but if there is a language that carries, if there is a narrative breath, it passes. »
The lesson has been brilliantly learned, mastered, as evidenced by the some 600 pages ofA human sum. Here, carried by an incantatory language and a protean narration, the story of quests and drifts of the French heroine of Makenzy Orcel makes us penetrate powerfully into the dramas and sufferings of our worlds. The reader does not leave these pages unscathed.
A human sum, by Makenzy Orcel. Payot and Rivages editions, Paris 2022, 623 pages, 22 euros.