The Infamous Rosalie

Written by Evelyne Trouillot
Review by Kristen Hannum

Lisette, a Creole slave, works in the plantation house of owners better than some in the 1750s. Still, they could have her killed at any moment. That’s more likely than in previous decades, because fear is sweeping the white islanders, with rumors of poisoning and rebellion. The Rosalie is the name of the infamous boat that transported the slaves across the Atlantic from Africa. Lisette knows the stories from her grandmother, godmother, and the other women of her tribe who made the passage and who care for her. The story they won’t tell her is what happened to her aunt, and why. That only comes out at the end, and was inspired by the old legend of an African-born midwife who made a new knot in a cord she kept each time she killed a baby at birth, saving it from slavery.

There’s something dreamlike about this fine story. As nightmarish as slavery was in the French colony of St. Dominique, I never had a sense of on-the-edge-of-my-seat fear that Lisette’s dignity or faith in the women who loved her would be damaged. It’s an uplifting homage to people loving one another and creating relationships under the most dire of circumstances. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Haitian author has written children’s books, and I wasn’t surprised to read her quote: “to write in Haiti is to say no to ugliness, mediocrity, and sloth, for a little more happiness at the end of the road.” This book received the Prix Soroptimist de la romancière francophone, a prize that honors a novel written by a woman from a French-speaking country that shows the cultural and literary diversity of the French-speaking world. Recommended.