In the Flicker of an Eyelid by Jacques Stephen Alexis (original French title: L’espace d’un cillement) is today’s Haitian Book Club Selection.
She’s known as La Niña Estrellita in the neighborhood, and her prowess as a prostitute is so widespread, that she has a large U.S. Marines clientele that lines up outside her door literally! Mezanmi o!
Lucrèce is La Niña Estrellita’s closest friend, but a prostitute herself, so really she (La Niña) doesn’t really have a guiding hand.
At a bar, La Niña Estrellita spies a man sizing her down, and she goes into a mental outrage:
“Nobody undresses her with his eyes. They usually grab her with their paws. La Niña always offers herself, men can turn her over, take her however they want, maul her, lick her, drink her, according to their vice. But they must pay up!”
At one point, La Niña drowns herself in her addictions: marijuana, opium, and chain-smoking, taking to heart the words of Dr. Chaubert: “La Niña, you’re dead; you’re already dead. it’s just that your funeral chants haven’t been sung yet.”
At the crux of In the Flicker of an Eyelid is the central question: can a woman of ill-repute be permanently reformed by love? Love, in this case, as in the love of El Caucho…Rafaël.
And then there is also this link to Cuba and Haiti too. La Niña Estrellita lives in Haiti in the 1950s (the novel itself opens in 1948), but she was born as Eglantina Corrarubias, a Cubana.
But back to the main question…can a harlot be saved? Mary Magdalene was, but El Caucho is no Christ. When the novel ends with an uncertain note, the reader isn’t angry but is grateful for having had served this story of the personal search for self and redemption, with oppression in the background.