Vox Populi

A curated webspace for Poetry, Politics, and Nature. Over 15,000 daily subscribers. Over 7,000 archived posts.

Emmelie Prophète: Pipo

His name was Phillippe, but we always called him Pipo. The nickname suited him. He was gentle, liked plants, and Fany loved him at first sight. He could have popped right out of a romance novel she had read as a teenager. He had known many women before Fany, and was a father of four children from four different women he saw little of. They made him miserable, he told Fany. And she believed him. She believed everything he told her. Pipo swore to her that the women who called him on the telephone to insult him and ask him to leave them alone were all crazy. He was her man, and nothing was going to change that.

    Two gangs fought for dominion over Bethlehem. Not a day went by without casualties. Pipo often talked about fallen friends, their final, frozen, empty vision, almost as if he were feeling his own demise. He was close to and a cousin of Fanfan the Savage, but he was not an active gang member, and should never have died. When he did not come home that evening, people thought it had something to do with the fighting going on. Gunfire sounded rapidly toward what was clearly the final battle. One boss only would rule over Bethlehem. 

    Fanfan was the winner. Franzy Slim-Wrist ended up lynched. Around thirty had been killed, soldiers from both camps, as well as others, as usual, perfecting the landscape. Pipo’s death did not prevent Fanfan celebrating the start of his undisputed reign over Bethlehem. Pipo became his story. No one came to Fany to tell her her love had died. Nor did anyone see to consoling her loss. Fanfan made payments to the mothers of Pipo’s children, but Fany went unrecognized. She gave no sound to her grief, even in front of her sister, Elise, who always ignored her when she had talked of her upcoming marriage to Pipo. 

    Grown haggard by grief, and anxious to escape the mockings of people who knew all about Pipo’s numerous fiancées, Fany left Bethlehem. Elise followed her sister. She amounted to nothing without Fany. She never had. Elise was the disturbed one, the alcoholic. She who had shaken her sister awake in the middle of the night when the latter orgasmed too intensely under the imaginary advances of Pipo. Fany was the pretty one, too beautiful for Pipo, thought Elise. But everything Elise thought was stillborn, each thought erased before she could give it expression. She had always been like that. Content to drink and smoke her life away, she hid behind a row of plants that had not cured her sister. They were both sick, essentially, sick of nothing if not themselves.    


Translator’s Note: 

This extract is from the final pages of Cécé, the English language title of Emmelie Prophète’s sixth novel, Les Villages de Dieu, from Mémoire d’Encrier (Montréal, 2020), translated from the French by Aidan Rooney. Set in the outskirts of Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince, in a neighborhood where gangs extort, rape, and murder with impunity as they vie for influence, Cécé is the survival story of the novel’s eponymous young female narrator.

    From the get-go (Vox Populi, Apr. 2022) Cécé strikes a formidable figure. Orphaned since infancy, her mother having succumbed to AIDS, Cécé is raised by her Grandma. When her Grandma dies, Cécé adapts to increasingly precarious circumstances. Alternating stretches of memory and chronicle carry her through her days as she becomes, thanks to her cell phone (Agni, Oct. 2022), a young woman of influence. Cécé is a highly-peopled novel, flush with supporting actors. Cécé shares her home and her resources with her mute Uncle Frédo, or Tonton, as she calls him. His sad Olympic dream-story (Asymptote, Feb. 2023) is a foil to her own. 

    Prophète’s clear and crystal prose, not unlike the écriture plate of Annie Ernaux, is particularly adept at sketching character and vignette. Pipo is one such cameo towards whom we feel largely unsympathetic. His appearance provides a coda to Fany’s story, one of the women in Cécé’s neighborhood with whom, from the early pages, we have become acquainted. 

    Described by Dany Laferrière as “the best book on Haiti in a long time,” Prophète’s novel is a story of resilience and fragility, of life and death up close, of hard times made vivid and banal. Prophète’s novel was the winner of the Prix FetKann Maryse Condé, an award recognizing literature from the largely postcolonial global South that promotes human dignity. Selected in 2022 by high school students in Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Guyana for the Prix Carbet de Lycéens, an award for best new novel from a Caribbean writer, Cécé contains but does not indulge descriptions of violence and situations some may find disturbing. 

Translation copyright 2023 by Aidan Rooney

From Emmelie Prophète’s Les Villages de Dieu (Mémoire d’Encrier, Montréal, Nov. 2020). 

Emmelie Prophète

2 comments on “Emmelie Prophète: Pipo

  1. matthewjayparker
    February 25, 2023

    So powerful. Sometimes I mourn how cloistered we are here even as I give thanks for it.


    • Vox Populi
      February 25, 2023

      Yes, Prophete paints Haiti as a place of anarchy and terror.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enter your email address to follow Vox Populi and receive new posts by email.

Join 15,841 other subscribers

Blog Stats

  • 4,651,723 hits


%d bloggers like this: