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292 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1966
The ambassador said, ‘Come on, cheer up, let us all be comedians together. Take one of my cigars. Help yourself at the bar. My Scotch is good. Perhaps even Papa Doc is a comedian.’
‘Oh no,’ Philipot said, ‘he is real. Horror is always real.’
The ambassador said, ‘We mustn’t complain too much of being comedians – it’s an honourable profession. If only we could be good ones the world might gain at least a sense of style. We have failed – that’s all. We are bad comedians, we aren’t bad men.’
On the first landing there was a picture by Phillipe Auguste of a carnival procession, men, women, and children wearing bright masks. Of a morning, when the sunlight shone through the first-floor windows, the harsh colours gave an impression of gaiety, the drummers and the trumpeters seemed about to play a lively air. Only when you came closer you saw how ugly the masks were and how the masquers surrounded a cadaver in grave-clothes; then the primitive colours went flat as though the clouds had come down from Kenscoff and the thunder would soon follow. Wherever that picture hung, I would feel Haiti close to me.
Come on, cheer up, let's all be comedians together. Take one of my cigars. Help yourself at the bar. My scotch is good. Perhaps even Papa Doc is a comedian. We mustn't complain too much about being comedians--its an honorable profession. If only we could be good ones, the world might gain a sense of style. We have failed--that's all. We are bad comedians but we aren't bad men.Jones is shown to be a bluff & a fraud, someone whose life has been a series of pipe-dreams, just drifting from one failed scenario to the next but in time, near the novel's end via a confessional moment, a brotherhood seems to be established. Jones is enlisted in a plot to lead a small band of Haitians attempting to overthrow Duvalier, operating from a point near the border within the Dominican Republic, the adjacent 2/3 of the island of Hispaniola.
I remember now. I used to think you were--nothing. I am nothing. Yes, but a Protestant nothing, not a Catholic nothing (said Jones to Brown). I had a sense of colored balls flying in the air, a different color for every faith--or even every lack of faith. There was an existentialist ball, a logical-positivist ball. I even thought that you might be a Communist nothing. It was fun just as long as with great agility one patted balls around: it was only when a ball fell to the ground one had the sense of an impersonal wound, like a dead dog on an arterial road.The Haitian characters are memorable as well, including "Petit Pierre" a dapper journalist who somehow treads the unstable ground between appraising & reporting on visitors to Haiti and the Tonton Macoute, Dr. Magiot, a surgeon who is described as "very big & very black but possessed of great gentleness", Joseph who works as a factotum & last employee at Brown's hotel, being primarily in charge of mixing Rum Punches for the owner of the Trianon, even when there are no guests to tend to.
Communism my friend, is more than Marxism, just as Catholicism--remember that I was born a Catholic too--is more than the Roman Curia. There is a "mystique" as well as a "politique". We are humanists, you & I. Catholics & Communists have committed great crimes but at least they have not stood idly aside, like an established society & been indifferent. I would rather have blood on my hands than water like Pilate.And at the conclusion, Brown says to Jones, "Why are you dying, Jones?" The response is: "It's my part old man; it's my part. But I've gotten this comic line--you should hear the whole theater laugh when I say it. The ladies in particular." Brown asks, "What is it?" Jones responds: "That's the trouble. I've forgotten it."
I implore you, the last request of a dying man for a knock on the door may come at any moment--if you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to the faith we lose. Or is it the same faith under another mask?