Stanley Péan certainly knows his way around a cab. By his own admission, the Haiti-born, Quebec-raised author and Radio Canada broadcaster spends an inordinate amount of time (and money) getting chauffeured around in taxis. In David Homel’s English translation of Taximan, Péan collects stories, anecdotes, snippets of political discussions, and other squibs from his long habit of chatting up cabbies.
Much of the impetus behind this book arises, according to Péan, from the fact that a disproportionate number of taxi drivers in Montreal are Haitian immigrants. This results in some mildly interesting exchanges that recur throughout the book. The first is that Péan is occasionally mistaken for the more-famous Dany Laferrière, a friend and fellow Haitian-Canadian writer. As well, cabbies tend to be curious about how Péan and his family avoided less-menial careers. There is a comical bit in which Péan’s father tells a cabbie that he scored a job at a secondary school after moving to Canada. When the cabbie asks if that means as a cook in the cafeteria, he replies by saying no, unfortunately, he had to settle for a job as a French teacher.
The most repeated trope in Taximan, however, involves Haitian cabbies who outright refute Péan’s own heritage. The author was born in Port-au-Prince in 1966 but moved as a baby with his family to Jonquière, Quebec. On the basis of his experiences, and even his accent, taxi drivers often accuse him of being a “fake Haitian.” But Péan doesn’t seem troubled by this: he shares these anecdotes in the same breezy tone found in the rest of Taximan.
And therein lies the trouble with this short book: it’s perhaps a bit too light-hearted. Taximan has an engaging, comical tone, but these little snatches of story don’t really hold together or explore any one theme with enough depth. In the end, the book reads like a prolific and successful author resting on his laurels, which is curious considering the original version was published when the author was still in his 30s.