Continuing my chronological survey of Dany Laferrière’s work, I recently finished Le goût des jeunes filles (published in English as Dining with the Dictator, although I cannot quite see where that title comes from). The edition I have is a 2004 reedition with changes and not the original from 1992. Still, it is a good follow up to L’odeur du café, with titles both referring to the senses.
The main character is a teenager and he hangs with one of his no-good friends from high school. One night, as they are hanging out, they come in contact with a “tonton macoute” (government militia under the Duvalier dictatorship) in a bar. The friend later pretends he managed to corner the tonton macoute and cut off his balls. He even shows him something bloody in his hand. They run away in fear of being caught and thrown in one of Port au Prince’s jails. The main character is terrified and instead of going home, he takes refuge in the apartment of a young woman who lives across the street from him.
What follows is a memorable weekend of observing this young woman and her friends, listening to their conversations and trying to understand what is to him the strange world of young women, their relationships to each other and to men, their dreams and their hopes. His observations are interspaced with the diary entries of one of the young women, which show how so very different perceptions of one particular social scene can be.
There are other layers to this rich fresco… In one chapter set much later in time, one of his aunts asks him where he was during the famous weekend when he disappeared and caused his mother to worry so much… And the young woman later published an edited version of her diary as a testimonial of life in those times.
Quite a fascinating read! The dialogues in particular feel quite natural. You can really picture this group of young women arguing about who is going to catch the good looking member of an up-and-coming band, while they are shaving their legs and redoing their makeup.
Laferrière, Dany. Le goût des jeunes filles. Nouv. éd. rev et augm. VLP Éditeur, 2004. (originally published in 1992).