Originally published by The Huffington Post
Despite its image of relentless poverty and political unrest, Haiti is the most beguiling and charming of destinations for foreign observers, but also one of the most maddeningly complex. From broad brushstrokes outlining the surface of events, outsiders, often devoid of context, are sometimes forced to draw not-always-accurate conclusions. As the place that gave me my start as a foreign correspondent and which was the subject of my first book, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press, 2005), Haiti has always had a special place in my heart and trying to inject some history into the discussion of the country has become something of a personal mission. Below are several books that I think would add greatly to our general understanding of Haiti. Though I am sure readers would care to add their own to this list (and though I am sure I have forgotten something essential), this strikes me as a good place to start. MD
This book, poetic and impressionistic much like the author’s more-famous experimental cinema, was the result of years of immersion in Haiti’s religious culture, and acts as a worthy companion to the film of the same name.
This book by two veteran journalists bring to life the tyranny of the dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971 and set a bloody benchmark for despots ever since.
A memoir by the famous African-American choreographer, who lived in Haiti and became the lover of its future president, Dumarsais Estimé, this book is eloquent testimony to the power of Haiti to move and change those who visit her.
This important book by the Haitian sociologist and Wesleyan University professor looks with an unsentimental lens at the the second mandate of Haiti’s twice-ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
A former National Public Radio correspondent who covered Haiti’s chaotic 2000 to 2004 era gives us an eyewitness account of how the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to an end amidst a tidal wave of corruption, violence and dashed dreams.
The best general history of Haiti available in English comes from perhaps an unlikely source, a former chief of the U.S. naval mission to Haiti who ran afoul of dictator François Duvalier. Nevertheless, over a gripping 889 pages, the military man and his journalist wife sustain a compelling narrative of Haiti’s tumultuous history, resurrecting names and events that have been all-but-forgotten in most English-language writing on the subject.
The result of travels through the Haitian countryside by the Swiss Métraux along with his friend, the great Haitian author Jacques Roumain, this decades-old work remains the best overview of Haiti’s syncretic indigenous religion.
This book by a young Jamaican historian covers the period between the departure of the U.S. Marines after a 20-year military occupation and the coming to power of François Duvalier. In doing so, it demonstrates how the dysfunctional nature of Haiti’s politics cannot be blamed on a single source, but is rather the product of decades of political and economic miscalculation and ill-intention on the part of both Haiti’s leaders and the international community.
The English author’s experiences traveling through Haiti may be 25 years old, but this book reveals the colour, grime exhilaration and despair which foreigners often experience when ranging through Haiti better than almost any book before or since.
A beautifully-written account of the years immediately following the fall of the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship, this book also served to bring to international prominence a young Haitian priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose depressing legacy once he entered politics gave lie to the man’s once-rich promise.
A timeless novel of poverty, oppression and flight, this enthralling work is the most famous by the author, who died in an unsuccessful 1961 attempt to overthrow François Duvalier.
This PEN Award-winning 2007 collection of short stories contains several set in Haiti that are obviously the work of someone who has experienced the country at great length.
A vivid depiction of Port-au-Prince and the life of a woman whose existence has been one of endless struggle, this book is one of the key works from one of Haiti’s most important novelists.
This 1943 novel by a Haitian author and diplomat eloquently addresses the plight of Haiti’s peasantry in terms that sadly are as relevant today as when the book first appeared.
A short novel by the man who is probably Haiti’s greatest living author, sensitively translated by Linda Coverdale, this book tells the bleak story of two children attempting to flee a Port-au-Prince slum after killing their abusive father.
The works of the Haitian scholars Roger Gaillard, Suzy Castor and Laënnec Hurbon, novelists such as Gary Victor, and others such as the French anthropologist Gérard Barthélemy, are indispensable to any serious understanding of Haiti.
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