Antoine des Gommiers by Lyonel Trouillot
Despite appearances, Antoine des Gommiers is not the main character of the eponymous new novel by Lyonel Trouillot. He is a Haitian myth whose story shapes that of the narrator’s – Ti Tony – by tying it to his family, his neighborhood, and his island. Antoine des Gommiers may or may not have existed. Trouillot asks us to instead contemplate the blurry space in which literature and real life coexist, one always nourishing the other.
The first pages open on the myth itself, with the novel then regularly alternating with Ti Tony’s life story as told in his own harsh words. His short sentences leave no room for dreaming – just like the area in which he grew up. However, the very structure of the text changes substance whenever Antoine des Gommier’s story is brought back in. The sentences run longer, the atmosphere is brightened, and reality is replaced with the idealism and poetry of Haiti’s lost past.
The two stories seem many years apart from each other. And yet as the chapters unfurl, we come to understand how closely related they are. As one progresses through the novel, it becomes clear that behind des Gommiers’ character lies the voice of Franky, Ti Tony’s brother; and that the book is written as a dialogue between two very different siblings. Ti Tony works while Franky writes. Franky is the dreamer while Ti Tony cannot escape the physicality of his reduced circumstances. The two express, in their own way, the reality of their Haitian experience.
By embedding a myth within his own novel, Trouillot ingeniously splits his writing into two complementary characters who in turn create an astonishing double portrait of the author himself. In this, Trouillot subtly reflects on the necessity of literature, reconciling social realism and poetry.