The Musician Trees, by Jacques Stephen Alexis, is a novel set in Haiti, during the 1940s. It’s the author’s loving effort to show people what his homeland had to endure through the centuries, in terms of slavery, violence and exploitment. But it also tries to be an advise for haitians, indicating a path towards progress and justice.
Alexis had trust in his own people, ‘cause they were the first black independent state in the modern world. He could see the opportunities and resources of Haiti and its inhabitants, even though he was aware of how corruption and extreme poverty were ruining the society. In particular, there were two things that worried Alexis and made him make up his mind to side with the poor and tell the world what was happening in his country.
In fact, when the author wrote, Hispaniola was being exploited by american capitalists, who wanted to use the resources of the island, in order to produce rubber trees. But, to start these plantations, a lot of haitians were expropriated of their lands by the corrupted goverment: a solution that left people in extreme poverty. Of course, a part of them were supposed to work for the SHASA (that was the name of the capitalists’ american firm), but the salary was insufficient, and this business didn’t create any wealth for the common haitians.
In addition, another important theme tackled by Alexis is related to religion. The reader becomes a shocked witness of the interferences of the catholic church in the spiritual life of those who still believed in Vodou religion. This belief, which was brought in Haiti by the african slaves, survived for centuries and a lot of haitians still worshipped the ancient gods back then and they still do it today. Unfortunately, the church violently persecuted them. Barbaric acts like forced abjurations and the destruction by fire of the places of worship took place and they did not happen in the middle-age, but during the 1940s!!!
So, with The Musician Trees, Jacques Stephen Alexis wants to tell us about these things: exploitation, injustice and religious and political persecution. Nevertheless, there is also hope and the book is not only about the sorrow of a population. The author indicates a path for redemption: education, integrity, commitment and solidarity. They’re the values that can redeem states and people.
In the end, novels like this one, or like Masters of the Dew, by Alexis’ fellow countryman Jacques Roumain, make us aware of the many stories of our world and open our hearts and minds. The Musician Trees’ author was jailed, tortured and killed (by those who didn’t want any kind of improvement for Haiti). But he survives in his book – in what he wrote. We must learn FROM men like him and ABOUT men like him: because we mustn’t forget them.
– Giuseppe Circiello –