Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | January 13, 2013
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Fate and free will collide in Haitian drama
'Akin to No One' lays bare the struggles that bedevil Haiti.

'Akin to No One' is an existential masterpiece. It is vintage story telling that moves, provokes, and instructs. Haitian playwright and author, Nicole Titus takes a page out of Victor Frankl's playbook, exploring the depth of human potential amid adversity and circumstantial blight.

Akin is more than a tale chronicling a girl's doggedness to succeed. One is easily tempted to relate the experience of the protagonist Grace to today's struggle for gender equality. But Titus is hardly a literalistic, and the esoteric subplot of her work is more stirring, transcending female empowerment. Grace and her family, like every poor Haitian, are absorbed by an apparent archetypal curse that smothers the individual will.

In sociological, even theological terms, it is a generational nightmare, a kind of fatalism that infects the poor, casting a blanket of oppression over the most able of individuals. Threatened with eviction, and seeing her vicarious efforts evaporating, Grace's mother, Therese, laments to a benefactor: "Even this child, madame, who I was placing my hopes on, now that we're moving to ... to the ... backwoods, she won't be able to go to school anymore. She was my only hope, madame! It's as if the devil reached his hand into my life like this, and ransacked everything, everything that I have... ."

THEME OF STRONG WILL

It is this will to meaning, the will to realise one's potential, despite a looming destiny of hardship that forms the thematic underbelly of Titus' complex work. Titus' characters are dignified, proud, but with different approaches to their lot in life. Therese's determination to educate her daughter, borders on obsession - laudable and equally disturbing. It is a consummate passion that can easily turn on its head. And it does. Therese becomes a mental tinderbox, eventually losing grip on reality. She is consumed by dashed expectations.

Juxtaposed to that grinding drive to succeed is Grace's father, Mondestin, a sympathetic and likable figure who raises the most telling discourse of this work. Predestination and freewill collide during his frequent exchanges with his wife. When Grace inquires about school and her willingness to enroll, her father balks, questioning the decision with clearly unpopular, but hardly dismissive opinions: "People don't need to pass through school to live ... .What this child learns right here no school can teach it to her ... . It's all those people who've passed through school, all of them with knowledge, who're destroying the country."

Of course, Mondestin loses the argument, won over by his tenacious wife and daughter. Yet, his simplicity cannot be slighted. As anachronistic as he appears, his words ring with validity.

Mondestine surrenders to the will of God, to Fate. When eviction seems imminent, his wife bemoans: "When they put us out, where are we going, eh?"

"Wherever God send us," he retorts. Later, Grace recalls her father's emotional litanies, thanking God "for everything, from the land, the children, good health, and the deep blue sea."

Grace is sensitive, quiet, reflective, and gifted - attributes not shared by her older sister Julienne, who wilts to the culture of poverty. What ignited Grace's spark to learn, to achieve the highest award in academia? She is steeled by her mother's gnawing demise and by adversity at school, rising above the taunts, the emotional bullying at the hands of well-heeled, but socially-bankrupt classmates. Grace and her sister Julienne are so markedly different. Here, the author invites an ontological enquiry. This is the philosophical depth of Titus' undertaking. Yet, her work remains fluid, vivid.

She creates a stage of contrasting and complimentary characters. A naturalist, her attention to artistic detail and characterisation are stark.

Akin underscores the travails, the challenges of life. From the ashes of hopelessness, Grace uses education to overcome social inequality and injustice. She delivers an inexorable lesson in grit and personal transformation. It is a lesson worth telling and experiencing.

Akin to No One lays bare the struggles that bedevil Haiti. While Grace was fortunate to have had a Madame Bonhomme to lend support, many Haitians become victims of the restavec tradition, seen by many as a form of child slavery.

Clearly, class, race, and colour are entwined into Haiti's socio-political matrix, a system disfigured by nepotism, corruption, and the wiles of tin gods. They comprise Titus' existential hell. Her characters must surmount these onerous challenges, or, have Fate thrust upon them.

Rating: Highly Recommended

glenvilleashby@gmail.com or Follow me on Twitter @glenvilleashby

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