Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
Taximan is Francophone writer and radio host Stanley Péan’s first book to be translated into English. He has been quite prolific in French—thirty years of novels, short stories, and essays—so this is long overdue.
Oddly for a North American in his fifties, Péan has never learned to drive. This means that he has to take public transportation—trains, buses, and, of course, a lot of taxis. And this, in turn, means a lot of taxi drivers. Péan finds taxi drivers to be an interesting bunch. Most like to talk, so Péan listens and engages, and quickly their stories come out. Passenger and driver find common ground for discussing all sorts of things—country of origin, language, politics, family. Thus the drivers enter Péan’s life—shared concerns leading to a shared bond.
Occasionally Péan will encounter a driver who is silent, and he then is left to speculate on their lives, where they come from (for many are clearly not from Canada), why they drive a taxi, who the people are in the photographs on the dashboard. But this is rare. Mostly the interchanges are lively and revealing.
One dominant theme is Haiti. Many taxi drivers in Quebec are Haitian. Péan himself is from Haiti, though he moved to Québec when he was one year old. To Jonquière, of all places, rather far from the islands! But his Caribbean roots are never far away. And he knows Creole, the language his father wanted to reject after their move. Creole allows Péan to form a deeper bond with many of these drivers and gives him a window on a foreign homeland he doesn’t claim to know very well.
Why Taximan is called a novel is anyone’s guess. It is much more a travelogue of Péan’s actual adventures in taxis, both in Québec and abroad. Which is to say, nonfiction. Perhaps he calls it fiction because he has combined some stories, changed names, who knows? In any case, it doesn’t really read like a novel. Rather than having a strict plot or story line, Taximan is composed of vignettes, not really connected to each other except by the recurring themes of being displaced, of identity and struggle, on what it is to be a media star (for that’s what Péan is), a family man, a black man and a black Quebecker.
Taximan is about a unique type of human contact, initially random, that can become deep and even intimate. This is a thoughtful, entertaining little book. Enjoy the ride!
Taximan is published by Linda Leith Publishing.