Bernard Diederich

Seeds of fiction : Graham Greene's adventures in Haiti and Central America, 1954-1983

Peter Owen

London, Chicago, 2012

bibliothèque insulaire

parutions 2012
Seeds of fiction : Graham Greene's adventures in Haiti and Central America, 1954-1983 / Bernard Diederich. - London, Chicago : Peter Owen, 2012. - 315 p.-[16] p. of pl. : ill., map ; 23 cm.
ISBN 978-0-7206-1488-6
DESCRIPTION : In 1965, Graham Greene joined journalist Bernard Diederich in the Dominican Republic to embark on a tour of its border with Haiti, then ruled by « Papa Doc » Duvalier. They were accompanied by an activist priest, Jean-Claude Bajeux. Diederich had known Greene since the mid-1950s and had lived in Haiti for 14 years. He was a seasoned correspondent for the British and North American press and had reported many stories from the region, including Castro's triumph in Cuba and the death of the Dominican dictator, Trujillo. In 1963, he had been thrown out of Haiti and when Greene arrived was working from the Dominican Republic. The famous novelist was 61 and depressed having struggled to finish A Burnt-Out Case and was being plagued by religious doubt ; Bajeux, meanwhile, had been informed that his family had been « disappeared » by Duvalier's henchmen. As this trio travelled along the border they met a number of rebels and other characters later fictionalized in Greene's most politically charged novel, The Comedians, published the following year.

This major new biography finally and fully illuminates a pivotal episode in Greene's life and career in the kind of detail that will sate any fans of Graham Greene's work, but also provides a fascinating glimpse into a writer's life, making it an essential purchase for fans of literary biography. Including extensive new archive material on Greene and exclusive, never-before-seen photographs of Greene on his travels, this book tells the story of how a series of extraordinary and often hair-raising journeys gave one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century new inspiration in his writing.
Né en 1926 en Nouvelle-Zélande, Bernard Diederich découvre Haïti en 1949, décide d'y vivre et crée un hebdomadaire en langue anglaise, the Haiti Sun ; il devient également correspondant d'agences et de journaux anglo-saxons (New York Times et Daily Telegraph entre autres). En 1963 il est expulsé d'Haïti par Duvalier et s'installe en République dominicaine.

Bernard Diederich et Graham Greene ont fait connaissance en 1954 — début d'une amitié durable. En 1965, le romancier demande au journaliste d'organiser un voyage au plus près de la frontière entre Haïti et la République dominicaine. Pour de multiples raisons, c'est une expédition hasardeuse, mais riche en information, en émotions et, même quand la tension culmine, non dénuée d'humour.

Le récit de Bernard Diederich éclaire la personnalité du romancier et précise les circonstances de la genèse des Comédiens (dont l'édition originale est parue en 1966), en insistant sur la portée militante du roman — pour Graham Greene c'était un témoignage sur la dictature, et le moyen dont il disposait pour la combattre.
EXCERPT    We had reached the centre of the island of Hispaniola and the so-called International Road, which was a 54-mile stretch of mostly gravel and grass that passed for a road and wound back and forth through Haitian territory alongside the Libon River.
   « If something is going to happen it will be along this stretch, » I said. « We should be alert. »
   Graham stared out the window. « I have never felt such pervasive fear in a country as in Haiti, » he confessed. His words were always measured, like those slow miles of the rough border track, even though he had to raise his voice above the rhythmic rattling of the little Volkswagen engine.
   We continued. And a few minutes later Graham sounded the alarm. « There in the hill. » He pointed. « Tontons Macoutes. »
   Bajeux, who had been sleeping in the back, was now wide-awake. The hill was on the Haitian side. But Graham's sighting was not confirmed.
   « We are a good target, » he said, still scanning the low brown hills.
   We were the only target, I thought.
   Both countries were supposed to have maintained this section of the road, which crisscrossed the boundary, but it was obvious that neither had bothered to do so for years. Papa Doc couldn't care less about a road he didn't wish to share in the first place. To discourage incursions by the Kamoken 1, in June 1963 he had ordered a swath three to five miles wide cut along this central section of the Haitian side of the frontier. He called it a cordon sanitaire and warned that he regarded it as a war zone and anyone caught trespassing would be shot on sight. Graham called it a Voodoo Curtain. Peasants and their livestock were herded by Tonton Macoutes out of the no man's land. For days the whack of machetes felling trees and slashing undergrowth was heard along certain sectors of the border. A huge cloud of smoke from the burning homes of peasants, their corn crops, grass and underbrush hung over the region for days.
   « There they are ! » Graham pointed ahead. « The Macoutes ! »
   But his sighting proved to be a group of poor Haitian children who scrambled down the hill and on the road in tattered clothes begging for cinq cob — five cents. These emaciated children were defying Papa Doc in search of food.
   « Ask them where they come from, » Graham said. But it was too late. They'd scampered off into the hills, their little fists holding tightly to the Dominican coins we gave them.
   « Where can they possibly spend the money ? » Graham asked, contemplating a border that appeared so empty.
   « They will find a vendor of bread or candy somewhere, » Bajeux explained. « Haiti is one big marketplace, with everyone trying to sell something. It's the only way to survive. »
   We came around a small bend in the road, and once again Graham moved forward in his seat. « There. I think I've spotted some movement over there. » He pointed to a clump of bushes near a deserted military post on the Haitian side ahead.
   We detected no Macoutes or troops, but a guinea hen, that mascot of the Duvalier regime, darted across the road in front of us and disappeared into the Dominican Republic.
   « That hen is a defecting Tonton Macoute, » I joked.
   « What a windfall the three of us would be to the Tontons ! » Graham said. He had started to call the Tontons Macoutes Tontons. « Imagine what Papa Doc would do if he knew we were here ! »
   I knew what I would do. I had been thinking about it constantly : drive into Dominican territory as fast as the little car could take us.

pp. 61-62
1. Ces activistes qui luttaient contre la dictature disposaient de fragiles bases de repli en République dominicaine.

mise-à-jour : 15 août 2018