Set in late-18th century Haiti, Dance on the Volcano follows the extraordinary career of Minette, who uses her prodigious voice to cross racial barriers. Her talent brings her an opportunity to perform at the Theater of Port-au-Prince, an honor previously reserved only for whites. However, once the curtain falls she finds herself back to life as normal. Praised but unpaid, applauded but shut out, Minette develops a political and racial conscience that won’t rest as long as slavery still exists on the island. Her involvement soon leads her to butt heads with the man she loves, a freed black man as cruel to his slaves as many white landholders, and to cross paths with the future heroes of the revolution.
Born in Port-au-Prince in 1916, Marie Vieux-Chauvet is widely considered one of the greatest writers of the francophone Caribbean. Dance on the Volcano is the second of her works to be published in English.
This publication was made possible by a grant from the Nimick Forbesway Foundation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Marie Vieux-Chauvet's Dance on the Volcano stands with Tolstoy's War and Peace, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, Robert Graves's I, Claudius, and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind in its extraordinary power to bring all the nuance and complexity of a long-gone society so vividly before our eyes. With what's going on racially and politically in the United States today, now is an excellent time for this masterpiece novel to appear in English – and in a translation which does full justice to the great beauty of Chauvet's prose.
— Madison Smartt Bell
Vieux-Chauvet’s novel is that rare gem that takes an ambitious scope and successfully captures the social and political turmoil of a country at war...those interested in Haitian history, deep explorations of social injustice, and courageous, determined heroines will find much to enjoy in Vieux-Chauvet’s masterly tale.
— Publishers Weekly
Kaiama L. Glover’s translation is fluid, remaining faithful to the elegance of Vieux-Chauvet’s prose while navigating the stylistic concerns inherent to recreating a work written in the 1950s and about the colonial life of the 1790s, for a 21st-century audience...Minette’s story, more than anything else, is about having “a seat at the table,” to use the current resignification of that phrase. For a book written about the racial climate of a late 18th-century French colony, there is an eerie familiarity to the questions it raises about how a person of color earns that seat, and what consequences come along with sitting at the table in a world of institutionalized racism.
— Bronwyn Averett, The Quarterly Conversation
[A] vivid, heartbreaking epic . . . Vieux-Chauvet is a tremendously gifted storyteller, compared to the likes of Tolstoy. Her work highlights the lasting trauma of racial and class oppression — detailing the ripple effects that spread from one person to the next, and infect one generation after another. But it also shows humanity’s struggle to emerge from the ashes of this hatred, and find love and beauty again ... [a] remarkable work of fiction, which will introduce a new generation of readers to Vieux-Chauvet’s exquisite writing, and its courageous calls for justice.
— Tara Henley, The Toronto Star
A heroic and triumphant tale of social ascension.
— Curtis Small, San Jose State University
Dance on the Volcano is one of the the rare, or rather the only novel about the events that took place between 1789 and 1804, written in the 20th century in Haiti.
— Anja Bandau, Free University of Berlin
Dance on the Volcano is not limited to historical clichés, but rather opens up the possibility of the fantastic.
— Maurice Joseph, University of Haiti
With the help of translator Kaiama L. Glover, the reader gets a sense of what it was like to be living on that metaphorical “volcano” known as Saint Domingue that eventually erupted...there are moments of beauty throughout the book, especially when Minette is singing. One becomes so convinced of Minette’s ability to enchant that one wishes it came with a soundtrack. Sadly, the real-life Minette died long before the age of recording. However, while the music may be lost to time, thanks to Chauvet’s book, the person who helped to break down racial barriers during a tumultuous time in Haitian history will not be.
— Christopher Iacono, Five 2 One Magazine
The story is soft and cruel, sweet and bitter like the savors of the Caribbean, which make you smile and grit your teeth at once.
— Catherine Hermary-Vieille
In three movements as somber as they are striking, Marie Vieux-Chauvet explodes Hatian society in the time of dictator François Duvalier, in a classic style stripped of all exotic lyricism.... None of the dark forces that shook the country during this tragic period are forgotten in this novel-manifesto, from which no one comes out innocent.
— Le Monde
In Dance on the Volcano, Marie Vieux-Chauvet—one of Haiti’s finest novelists—has given us an exquisitely written portrait of Haiti’s social and political climate, one that's still eerily resonant 300 years later.
— Kevin Nguyen, GQ
Chauvet was nitroglycerin. She set her sights on an illness ravaging Haitian society.
— Dany Laferriere
[Dance on the Volcano] is crucial to a complete understanding of the violent conflict that overtook the country, and the revolution’s importance in world history . . . These racial and political images of Haiti more than two centuries ago, written sixty years ago, remain timely today in that nation, and resonate in the United States. In both countries, “a state of perpetual tension … produce(s) a strange heaviness in the atmosphere.” That volcanic tension keeps erupting, here and in Haiti.
— Marsha Dubrow, Consequence Magazine
[Marie Vieux-Chauvet is] one of Haiti's pre-eminent women writers.
— Conceptión De León, The New York Times