The Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980) tells of the slave revolts in the Antilles during the French Revolution. Led by Macandal, a black man who can take the form of various animals, the slaves, headed by the bird-man Ti Noel, fight for their freedom; they pit their their belief on miracles and magic against the reason of the whites. On the basis of historical events, the cosmopolitan Alejo Carpentier portrays in a multifaceted way a world that has its own dimension, its own imagination–extending our understanding of various forms of realities.
The protagonists of this fantastic-mystical narrative are almost mythological figures but the harassment they describe here is far from fantasy: stories of how African slaves endured under the rule of the French colonialists in Haiti. Ti Noel, who incidentally also appears in I, Tituba, the black witch of Salem of Maryse Condé, participatee in the first slave revolt on this part of Las Islas Hispaniolas.
Freed from French subjugation, Henri Christophe, a former slave, takes power, but the whip does not depart from him and again maltreats the suffering people and the life of a Negro has become even more worthless than during the oppression by the Whites.
Ti Noel, who also survives this despotism, retreats into the ruined house of his former ruler. He has already lived a hundred years in a dream world, where he would constantly transform into other animals, as new palefaces come. But not one of these new life forms makes him feel comfortable. He remembers the animal alterations of his great role model Macandal and realizes that Macandal’s metamorphoses had a different motivation and purpose.
It is relevant, to quote here Mario Varga Llosa’s review of the novel where he observes that almost all the characters and events in Carpentier’s novel have a correspondence to historical reality. Ti Noel remains a faceless person, representative of all those who have suffered inhumanely and yet retain their power, renouncing the labels and masks that have become both their burden and defense mechanism. With their pathetic appearances, they constantly rebel against any repression.
This straightforwardness of his fight for freedom makes Ti Noel an exceptionally likeable personality and the Kingdom of this World a highly rewarding reading episode.
The Kingdom of This World by Alejo Carpentier, Harriet de Onís (Translation) Paperback, 186 pages Published September 1st 1989 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1949)