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Read Your Way Around the World – Haiti

Our latest installment of Read Your Way Around the World is taking us to Haiti.

Haiti has had as volatile a history as any country. Domestic political upheaval, foreign government influences and religious conflicts have all conspired to keep the Pearl of the French Antillies in a state of near perpetual transition and strife.
The titles listed below are insightful, revealing much about the realities of Haitian life and, perhaps more importantly, the spirit of those Haitians striving to make the most of a life amongst the beauty and the beast that has become Haiti.

Fiction:

Love, Anger, Madness: a Haitian trilogy, by Marie Vieux Chauvet.

First published in 1968 but widely suppressed, this important work is finally available in English translation. It is described as a literary landmark, one that aptly conveys the herculean struggles of an oppressed people who, none the less, find inspiration in the chaotic world all around them.

All Soul’s Rising, by Madison Smartt Bell
The first part of an acclaimed trilogy, presenting a fictional account the Haitian Revolution, and more specifically, the life of Revolutionary hero Toussaint Louverture. Master of the Crossroads and The Stone that the Builder Refused complete the trilogy. “A passionately engaged opus. All Souls’ Rising reflects both a sustained imaginative audacity and great intellectual resourcefulness.” -The New Yorker

Breath, Eyes, Memory: a novel, by Edwidge Danticat
Danticat is a fantastic new voice in fiction. Born in Haiti, later raised in an American-Haitian neighbourhood in New York, Edwidge certainly has an insider’s perspective on life in Haiti. That combined with her lyrical writing talents and passion for social justice, makes for emotionally engaging, thought provoking literature. Her 1994 novel Breath, Eyes, Memory was a Oprah Book Club selection in 1998.

Heading South, by Dany Laferriere
A French Canadian classic. Recently released in English translation, it tells a series of sexually charged stories about visitors to Haiti and their impact on the locals, and vice versa. Laferriere, of Haitian heritage, weaves disquieting tales combining physical bonding with psychological isolation and misunderstanding. Heading South (DVD) has also been adapted to the big screen.
Non-Fiction:

Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat 2007
A riveting family biography from the award winning Haitian American fiction and children’s author. Inspirational and very well written, this is a great choice for fans of biographies.

A somewhat controversial book that explores in depth the ouster of President Aristide in 2004. The author is closely affiliated with Aristide and is therefore far from bias free in his analysis of events and motivations. It also means that he has an insight into the situation that others writers may lack. A thought provoking examination of an incredibly complex political maelstrom.

An somewhat unusual book that first presents the American author’s own troubled history as a girl and a young woman, which is a fascinating, if somewhat disturbing, story in it’s own right. The Haitian connection occurs when Krabacher and her second husband travel to Port au Prince and start the Mercy and Sharing Foundation. It is a heartbreaking story tempered with hope. I found it remarkable that a person who’s own life was so full of abuse and disappointment, would rise above the wreckage and make the world a much better place for others in need.

Agronomist (DVD), directed by Jonathan Demme 2005
This film tells the story of Haitian national hero, journalist, and freedom fighter Jean Dominique, whom Demme first met and filmed in 1986. As owner and operator of his nation’s oldest and only free radio station, Dominique was frequently at odds with his country’s various repressive governments and spent much of the 80’s and early 90’s in exile in New York, where Demme continued to interview him over the years. Dominique fought tirelessly against his country’s overwhelming injustice, oppression, and poverty but it was his shocking and still-unsolved assassination in April of 2000 that gave the director the impetus to assemble more than a decade’s worth of material into a celebration of this dynamic man’s life and legacy.” publisher’s description

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