Immigration fiction has always been an interesting genre in the vast sea of literature. Bittersweet Memories Of Last Spring by critically acclaimed author Dr. Ardain Isma is one such story of a young Haitian refugee who nurtures the American dream. Travails and trepidations engulf him on this path, and there lies before him the challenge to face and conquer the obstacles that life throws at him.
The story of Yrvin Lacroix
The year is 1980, and Yrvin Lacroix, aka Vinco, heads out for the United States of America. After a strenuous journey on a cramped sailboat, he sets his feet on the soil of Miami, Florida to join his sister who had arrived earlier. He leaves behind in Haiti his parents, his other siblings, and his childhood sweetheart Regine to whom he makes a promise to return.
It is a battle for survival as Vinco braves varied struggles to carve a niche for himself. He works hard to make ends meet and focuses on his studies to build a career. Although he is far away from the shores of Haiti, his heart bleeds for his fellow countrymen who suffer under the dictatorial Duvalier regime. In Miami, he joins the protests to secure refugee rights.
With time, the winds of change blow, and Vinco’s love for Regine wanes. He meets Michaela, a mixed-race girl of Dominican origin, and a relationship blooms between the two. All goes well until Regine surprises with a visit to Miami.
Do Vinco’s feelings for Regine resurface when he sees her? Does he grapple with conflicting emotions of love? Also, will he be able to graduate with a degree that he has worked so hard for?
The strain of realism flows throughout the story
It is clear that while crafting the novel, Dr. Isma has looked through a lens that zooms in on the truths of existence. What emerges is a story that features prominently in a tapestry of realism.
The novel is inspired by the author’s own experiences in a new country, and this lends poignance and authenticity to the saga of Vinco’s hardships. Anyone who has ventured on that route as an immigrant can easily relate to the happenings.
Vinco is flawed, and that makes him human. But in spite of the fact that he errs, he can never be disliked. What makes him admirable is his conscience. He has an honest work ethic, and he is disturbed every time he commits a mistake. There is an emotional tenderness throughout the tale, and one cannot help being a part of his world, wishing that life treats him fairly.
The novel is a tribute to the author’s Haitian heritage
The vibrant Haitian culture comes alive in Bittersweet Memories Of Last Spring as Vinco endearingly talks about the food and music of his homeland. For instance, there are several references to the sweet konpa, Haiti’s famous contemporary music genre. Also, Vinco relishes the traditional cuisine and is excited to find his favorite food in a new country: “I could still enjoy a delicious griyo at home or at any Haitian restaurant around. I could get my old favorites like rice and beans and chicken, red snapper or strawberry grouper, Creole style, anywhere in town.”
Our roots define who we are. The author brings to his readers a character who keeps his identity intact by being loyal to his lineage. This sentiment finds clear expression when Vinco says: “The Little Haiti environment in which I was living was far less unfriendly than other communities. That may have saved my Haitian roots, keeping me from totally becoming Americanized.”
An Engaging Style of Storytelling
The strength of the novel lies in Isma’s technique of presenting Vinco’s story. The first person narration makes it feel as though the protagonist is speaking directly to the reader.
The book is replete with figurative language that makes the prose richer and creates a visual impact on the reader’s mind. To cite an example, this is how Vinco describes his mental state in regards to not hearing from his beloved: “When I did not hear from her for a day or two, I transformed into a withered hibiscus waiting to be watered”.
Multiple themes are meticulously layered into the narrative. Vinco’s love relationships are juxtaposed against his struggle as an immigrant in the United States. Then there is the political backdrop of the Haitian revolt against the authoritarian rule of Duvalier. These themes are handled with utmost grace, with each rising to prominence without diminishing the others.
A compelling novel
Moralizing is not what the author does. Yet while reading the novel, you tend to reflect upon those principles that are the cornerstones of humanity, defining a meaningful existence.
A quote from American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald succinctly describes an interesting facet of literature: “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong”. The book resonates with readers because this is precisely the feeling that they experience. They feel that the emotions of the protagonist are similar to theirs. From the beginning, one is roped into Vinco’s world, taking a keen interest in his life. There is a desire to know about his struggles and learn about his moments of happiness and sorrow.
Soaked in delicate sensitivity, Bittersweet Memories Of Last Spring is indeed a beautiful story of faith, love, and identity. The sequel to this novel is what I am eagerly looking forward to!