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This review is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.

PASTIMES OF GERMAN EMIGRANTS Hans Christoph Buch, The Wedding at Port-au-Prince, translated from the German by Ralph Manheim (Faber and Faber), £10.95
Joseph Roth, Tarabas, translated from the German by Winifred Katzin (Chatto & Windus), £11.95

This grotesque novel is in three parts, which the author's prologue likens to 'a ruined fortress or castle with three wings'. The image suggests that the different parts, though they deal with three distinct series of events, add up to an architecturally unified whole; and one of my reasons for finding this book dissatisfying is precisely that they fail to do this, except in so far as all three sections follow the fate of Haiti and examine clashes of European and West Indies cultures. But (as Buch would say) let me tell the story from the beginning.

Book One, subtitled 'The Cayman's Nine Lives', is set in Haiti at the time of Toussaint L'Ouverture's rebellion and accounts for a quarter of the novel. The political events are merely a backdrop for a scenario of picaresque exoticism which involves a good deal of traipsing about in the jungle and produces incidents such as this:


Some minutes later he fired several pistol shots at a hummingbird that he wished to preserve for his collection. After several unsuccessful attempts, in which he either missed the tiny bird or tore it to pieces with a direct hit, he was inspired to load his pistol with sand. Taking aim at a magnificent broad-tailed hummingbird presenting all the colors of the rainbow, which was feeding nectar to its young in their walnut-sized nest, he actually succeeded in burying hummingbird and brood under a charge of sand. He broke the ...


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