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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Savage Seasons

Kettly Mars

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To purchase Savage Seasons

Title: Savage Seasons
Author: Kettly Mars
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 247 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Savage Seasons - US
Savage Seasons - UK
Savage Seasons - Canada
Saisons sauvages - Canada
Savage Seasons - India
Saisons sauvages - France
Wilde Zeiten - Deutschland
  • French title: Saisons sauvages
  • Translated by Jeanine Herman
  • With an Afterword by Madison Smartt Bell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : dark tale of personal and national debasement

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Die Zeit A 9/4/2013 Hans-Christoph Buch

  From the Reviews:
  • "Wilde Zeiten von Kettly Mars ist nicht nur literarisch ein großer Wurf -- das Buch ist ein Meilenstein auf Haitis holprigem Weg zur Aufarbeitung seiner Vergangenheit. (...) Das Buch von Kettly Mars ist so spannend wie Vargas Llosas Roman Das Fest des Ziegenbocks" - Hans-Christoph Buch, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Savage Seasons is set in Haiti in the early and mid-1960s, as the ridiculous 'Pap Doc' Duvalier ruthlessly consolidated his dictatorial power over the country. As one of the characters resignedly acknowledges:

Pap Doc, with his sickly air, will get himself elected president for life next year. He's clearing the terrain with automatic weapons
       The focus of the novel is on the Leroy family: Daniel, his wife Nirvah, and their two children, the teenage Marie and slightly younger Nicholas. The novel is marked by Daniel's absence: editor in chief of the opposition newspaper, Le Témoin ('The Witness') and the number two man of the local Communist party, the novel begins two months after he has been taken away by the authorities. His wife know he is in prison, but there are no formal charges; she can not visit him, and she has no word about his condition -- or what will become of him (though she has a pretty good idea: "After a period of torture and rotting in his jail cell Daniel will either be freed or executed").
       In desperation, Nirvah seeks an audience with a high representative of the regime, Secretary of State Raoul Vincent, a married father of two. The powerful Vincent is immediately taken by Nirvah, and becomes obsessed. While there is little he can (or wants to) do for Daniel, he becomes Nirvah's benefactor -- seeing to it that the street in front of her house is paved, installing air conditioning in her house (both creature comforts that he does for his own sake as much as hers -- as well as as a show of power), gives her expensive jewelry, replaces the car that the family lost when Daniel was taken away. Eventually he takes what he wants, too, becoming her lover.
       The novel is presented in short chapters from different perspectives. Nirvah's is the dominant voice, as she relates getting caught in this complex, ugly web. But Mars also pulls back and describes events surrounding Nirvah in the third person. Separately, Mars probes and presents much of what goes through Vincent's mind, too -- but only in the third person, not giving him his own, more direct say. Teenage Marie, on the other hand, relates several episodes to do with her. Finally, Daniel, who is only an unseen off-stage presence for the duration of the novel, gets to have his say in the journal-entries from 1962-3, leading up to his being taken away, in a notebook that Nirvah discovers and reads. Here she learns some of what Daniel has been keeping from her (including the true extent of his dangerous anti-regime activism).
       Nirvah is compromised, but she has no alternative (or at least she convinces herself that she never did ...). Her feelings of guilt are magnified by the fact that she enjoys some of the benefits that Vincent's attentions bring, allowing her to live in comfort in such difficult times. And there seems to be some safety in being protected by such a powerful representative of the powers that be -- she can tell herself that it is the best thing she can do for her family. But Mars takes this national and personal rot much, much further: it is not only Nirvah who is corrupted and compromised, but, shockingly, also her children -- something Nirvah wants and tries to turn a blind eye to. (Mars handles and presents this very creepy, creeping debasement of the entire family very well.) And while Vincent is genuinely protective of her and her family, doing everything he can to ensure their well-being and safety, no matter what happens (and in this Haiti, under this regime, everyone understands tides can turn quickly and anything can happen), Mars does not allow that to be enough: this is a novel without redemption.
       Nirvah realizes what road she is on early on -- and that in this country, in these times, they're all on that road to the same perdition. Haiti has become a nation where:
We've already become zombies. In order to live a seemingly normal life you mustn't have an opinion, you mustn't rebel against anything arbitrary, against the terrorism of the state. You mustn't try to figure out what is going on.
       But even in the passivity and acceptance she adopts there is, crushingly, no hope -- something she realizes early on, even as she remains unable to change course and try anything else.
       In interactions with family -- especially Daniel's siblings -- and acquaintances, in the power-struggles Vincent has to deal with, and even the (hi)story and evolution of the marriages of Nirvah and Daniel, as well as Vincent and his wife, Savage Seasons also shines an interesting light on the complex racial (mulatto and black) and social dynamics that have played such a significant role in Haiti.
       These conditions of terror and unpredictability are oppressive, yet life also goes on, and Mars nicely captures the everyday -- a clouded normality, but normality nevertheless -- that continues regardless. Still, the sense of how unnatural all of this is pervades everything. As Nirvah notes, nowadays: "in Haiti literally no one dies a natural death".
       The savagery of Savage Seasons isn't a brutality that surfaces often (though it does, all the more effectively, on a few occasions); instead, it largely bubbles below the surface. So, for example, Nirvah (and the reader) never learns what is happening to Daniel -- as Mars wisely refuses to relate any details about Daniel's current circumstances --, but even if there are no details whatsoever as to his ordeal, there's always an awareness of how he must be suffering.
       This is a bleak, bleak novel in which essentially all the characters are compromised -- because they live in a world and situation which does not allow for anything else. Well done -- but dark stuff.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 August 2015

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Savage Seasons: Reviews: Kettly Mars: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       Haitian author Kettly Mars was born in 1958.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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