Home > 1980, 20th Century, Canadian Literature, Highly Recommended, Laferrière Dany, Novel, Quebec Literature > Sex, jazz and literature or when Bukowski meets Baldwin

Sex, jazz and literature or when Bukowski meets Baldwin

September 18, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired by Dany Laferrière (1985) Original French title: Comment faire l’amour avec un Nègre sans se fatiguer.

Cette chambre est bien le Q.G. de tout ce que cette ville compte de marginales ; cette mafia urbaine qui a trouvé d’instinct son île au 3670 de la rue Saint-Denis, au carré Saint-Louis, Montréal, Québec, Canada, Amérique, Terre. CHEZ MOI. This room is really the HQ of every marginal girl of this city, this urban mafia who instinctively found their island at 3670, Saint-Denis Street, Saint-Louis quarter, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, America, Earth. MY HOME.

LaferrièreWhy did I wait so long to read Dany Laferrière? My trip to Québec prompted me to try his books and I decided to start by the beginning, Comment faire l’amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer. It is translated into English under How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired. A provocative title that sure caught my eyes.

The narrator is a struggling writer who lives in a crappy room in the Carré Saint-Louis neighbourhood of Montreal. It is based on Laferrière’s own experience of his first years in Montreal after he emigrated from Haïti in the 1980s. His roommate Bouba is a couch potato/philosopher. Both have girls coming in and out of the apartment and have a very active sex life. Both are black.

The narrator relates his daily life and his interactions with various white female sex partners. Most of them are students and come from Outremont, a bourgeois part of the city. They’re sort of slumming it with him. And the narrator, who doesn’t treat them really well, makes blunt observations about the relationships between a black man and a white young woman. He’s half-amused, half-offended by the huge lies he manages to feed them about his African origins. They swallow every stupid description about customs, clothes and everyday life.

ET DIRE QU’ON ENVOIE CES FILLES DANS UNE INSTITUTIONS SERIEUSE (McGILL) POUR APPRENDRE LA CLARTE, L’ANALYSE ET LE DOUTE SCIENTIFIQUE. ELLES SONT TELLEMENT INFECTEES PAR LA PROPAGANDE JUDEO-CHRETIENNE QUE DES QU’ELLES PARLENT A UN NEGRE, ELLES SE METTENT A PENSER EN PRIMITIVES. POUR ELLES, UN NEGRE EST TROP NAIF POUR MENTIR. C’EST PAS LEUR FAUTE, IL Y A EU, AUPARAVANT, LA BIBLE, ROUSSEAU, LE BLUES, HOLLYWOOD, ETC. (*) TO THINK THAT THESE GIRLS ARE SENT TO A SERIOUS ACADEMIC INSTITUTION (McGILL) TO LEARN CLARITY, ANALYSIS AND SCIENTIFIC SKEPTICISM. THEY ARE SO MUCH INFECTED BY JUDEO-CHRISTIAN PROPAGANDA THAT AS SOON AS THEY TALK TO A NEGRO, THEY START THINKING AS PRIMITIVES. FOR THEM, A NEGRO IS TOO NAÏVE TO LIE. IT AIN’T THEIR FAULT, BEFORE, THERE WERE THE BIBLE, ROUSSEAU, THE BLUES, HOLLYWOOD, ETC.

They don’t question him out of ignorance but also to prove how tolerant and open-minded they can be. Blunt thoughts about how the whites see black people are spread in the book. It’s not the purpose of the novel but it’s part of the narrator’s experience as an immigrant in Montreal. This is the Baldwin side.

The Bukowski side is more in the way of life, the drinking, the sex, the dubious way he treats women. It reminded me of Post Office. Bouba and the narrator pick up girls who are like star-struck but neither of the men is really interested in them. They give them nicknames like Miz Literature or Miz Suicide according to their interests and background. One of them is lovely and seems attached to the narrator but he doesn’t really care about her. He’s on his personal journey as a struggling writer who suffers for his art in a poor hotel room like Hemingway or Bukowski. What saves him is his sense of humor. Sure, he wants to be a writer and while he wants to walk into the path of glorious writers, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Another link between Laferrière, Bukowski and Baldwin is certainly their voracious love for literature and their lust for life. A powerful energy pours out of their books. The narrator is a would-be writer, he reads all the time and books are in his blood.

Longue file d’attente au bureau de poste. On est serrés comme des sardines. J’avise une sardine, juste devant moi. Elle lit un bouquin. Je suis une sardine maniaque de bouquins. Dès que je vois quelqu’un en train de lire un livre, il faut que je sache quel est le titre, si elle aime ça et de quoi ça parle. Long queue at the post office. We’re packed like sardines. I see a sardine just before me. She’s reading a book. I’m a sardine obsessed with books. As soon as I see someone reading a book, I have to know the title, if she likes it and what it is about.

Doesn’t it sound familiar? I bet he also reads information on food packaging at the breakfast table, various instructions here and there because he’s a compulsive reader. As Guy would say, there are worse addictions. This is a most pleasant part of the book. The narrator shares thoughts about literature and shows how his reading is embedded in his everyday life. He has an intimate and casual relationship with writers, worship made of familiarity.

Faut lire Hemingway debout, Basho en marchant, Proust dans un bain, Cervantès à l’hôpital, Simenon dans le train (Canadian Pacific), Dante au paradis, Dosto en enfer, Miller dans un bar enfumé avec hot dogs, frites et coke…Je lisais Mishima avec une bouteille de vin bon marché au pied du lit, complètement épuisé, et une fille à côté, sous la douche. You must read Hemingway standing, Basho, walking, Proust, in a bath, Cervantes, in the hospital, Simenon, on a train (Canadian Pacific), Dante, in heaven, Dosto, in hell, Miller in a smoky bar with hot dogs, fries and coke…I was reading Mishima with a cheap bottle of wine by my bed, totally worn out, with a girl nearby, in the shower.

Laferrière has the humor and the bluntness of a John Fante. He’s a black man from Haiti who ended up in Montreal, lived in Florida and has been a member of the Académie Française since 2013. He’s the second black man elected in this institution, the first writer from Haiti and the first from Québec. A long way since Comment faire l’amour avec un Nègre sans se fatiguer.

Powerful stuff. Highly recommended.

(*) NB: The capital letters are in the original text and I did the translations myself.

56_poste_canada

 

  1. September 18, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    The title is so familiar but I’m ashamed to say I don’t even think I knew it was a Canadian novel. Thanks to your excellent review, this book goes on my wishlist! Sometimes I guess we need readers from outside to call attention to our own literature. Thanks Emma!

    Like

    • September 18, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      I hope you’ll like it.
      Sometimes I discover French books through English reviews, so it works both ways.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. N@ncy
    September 18, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Another new author for me! Put this on the to read list, thx for the excellent review! (intertextuality with Bukowski and Baldwin).

    Like

    • September 18, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      I hope you’ll like it, Nancy. Your Francophone TBR grew a bit today!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. September 18, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    He is so good with titles. I Am a Japanese Writer – why do you even need to read the book, after a title that good?

    Wonderful excerpts, by the way, in French and translation.

    Like

    • September 18, 2016 at 8:45 pm

      He’s got a way with title, that’s for sure. I’m also intrigued by I Am a Japanese Writer. Have you read it?

      Like

      • September 18, 2016 at 9:27 pm

        No. Ma femme has read it, and at least a little bit more Dany Laferrière, always speaking of him very positively. My closest encounter with him is the movie Vers le sud (2005).

        Like

        • September 18, 2016 at 9:31 pm

          Good to know she recommends him.

          Like

  4. September 19, 2016 at 12:13 am

    I have I am a Japanese Writer (couldn’t resist that title either). He’s very funny and serious at the same time – and wonderfully charismatic in person!

    Like

    • September 19, 2016 at 12:52 pm

      I’ll read other books by him. It’s interesting to read them in order, I think, because he uses his own experience to write.
      I’ve never seen him in person but he was invited at the show La librairie francophone recently and he was funny and charismatic.

      Like

  5. September 19, 2016 at 1:41 am

    It sounds like fun, but with a serious message about the immigrant experience too.

    Like

    • September 19, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      It’s a very good balance between a light style and deep thoughts. It’s deceptively light.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. September 19, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    He does have a knack for titles, and Baldwin and Bukowski are fine literary parents. Will you read I am a Japanese Writer do you think?

    Like

    • September 19, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      He’s not even trying to do Bukowski or Baldwin but this one did reminded me of them.
      After Bookmaniac’s comment, I’m definitely reading Je suis un écrivain japonais.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. September 19, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    ‘Je suis un écrivain Japonais’ est excellent. A lire…
    Il approche les frontières et les nationalités, Quel est la nationalité d’un écrivain exilé, ou sont ses racines ?
    Laferrière est il un écrivain Haïtien, Québécois, Caribéen, Français ou Francophone ?

    Like

    • September 19, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      Merci pour le message. Ca achève de me convaincre : Je suis un écrivain japonais me tend les bras. La question est complexe n’est-ce pas? Ici pourtant, il y a une constante, Laferrière écrit dans sa langue natale. Mais que dire de Gao Xingjian? Ecrivain français d’origine chinoise, apparemment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • September 20, 2016 at 8:31 pm

        Je ne connais pas Gao Xingjian, mais je note. Je pensais à Aki Shimazaki. Japonaise qui vit à Montréal et qui écrit en Français. Un style épuré que j’apprécie énormément.

        Like

        • September 21, 2016 at 12:51 pm

          Echange de bons procédés: je vais regarder Aki Shimazaki.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. September 22, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    I greatly enjoy Dany Laferrière writing style as well. Although I have not read his 1st novel yet, I’ve read the following:

    “Un art de vivre par temps de Catastrophe” 5🌟 excellent lecture he gave at a university in Canada. Really recommend. I did a little review on my booktube channel. You’ll find me under [Ana’ Fiches de lectures].
    I also read “Pays sans chapeau” (4🌟); “L’Énigme du retour” (4🌟) & “L’odeur du café” which is about his childhood. Love his writing.
    Will check “je suis un écrivain japonais” 🎉

    Like

    • September 23, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks for the message and the hearty recommendations. There’s so much to discover, that’s great.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Vishy
    September 25, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    Wonderful review, Emma! So he really used the ‘n’ word in the title? 🙂 If he had not been a Haitian-Canadian he would be in trouble these days 🙂 This book looks interesting and fascinating and I have never heard Dany Laferrière before and so I look forward to reading this book sometime. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 26, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      He really used the ‘n’ word. It was in the 1980s, he’s black, he can do whatever he wants.
      It’s a great book, well worth reading. There’s so much love for literature in it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Vishy
        September 26, 2016 at 9:09 pm

        😂 I will look for it. I loved all the bookish quotes that you posted. Thanks for the wonderful review!

        Like

        • October 2, 2016 at 7:44 pm

          You’re welcom Vishy. I hope you’ll like it.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Tony
    October 1, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Definitely one I’d like to try some day – but, as always, so many books…

    Like

    • October 2, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      Well worth reading, Tony. A writer I plan on exploring more in the future.

      Like

  11. Tony
    October 1, 2016 at 11:29 am

    P.S. Hopefully, I’ll soon be able to reveal a little secret regarding a book from Quebec…

    Like

    • October 2, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      OK, I hope I won’t miss the revelation then. 🙂

      Like

  12. March 7, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    OMG…I need 2 pick up this book…when im back in Montreal?? ++ Great post

    Like

  1. October 11, 2016 at 9:44 pm
  2. March 7, 2017 at 11:17 pm
  3. May 25, 2017 at 11:55 am

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