The House of Erzulie

Written by Kirsten Imani Kasai
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Architectural historian Lydia Mueller secures a juicy assignment: evaluating historical objects found during the renovation of a sugar plantation near New Orleans. Letters and diaries, blood-letting lancets, and a writ committing Isidore Saint-Ange of Belle Rive Plantation to Louisiana’s State Insane Asylum are rich documents, but Lydia’s husband, Lance, is wary, for she is recovering from her own mental disturbance. He doesn’t know half of Lydia’s struggle, for she is hiding her urge to start cutting herself again. Perhaps Lance is right, for when Lydia starts reading, she can’t resist trying the blood-letter.

As Emilie St. Ange’s correspondence shows, it isn’t long after she marries Isidore Saint-Ange in 1851 that they start exploring spiritualism, and Isidore’s moods become increasingly erratic. Unknown to Emilie, P’tite Marie, the sensuous vodou practitioner, has guided Isidore down an erotically sinister path.

Kirsten Imani Kasai’s multi-period tale, The House of Erzulie, is a fascinating and surreal look into troubled minds. Both Isidore’s and Lydia’s grip on reality spins in and out of control; they experience visions, besotted compulsions, and self-mutilation as the veil between their worlds becomes increasingly tattered and their lives take parallel turns. Ms. Kasai’s settings are lush, and her sometimes-brutal tale is compulsive stuff (though squeamish readers beware!), even when her reader is left unsure of reality. I rarely say that I can’t put a book down, but The House of Erzulie left me besotted too. Highly recommended.