Sunday, January 19, 2014

Reading Update

Book #1 of the year was The Kingmaker's Daughter, by Philippa Gregory.  I don't get into these Wars of the Roses books as much as I do the Tudor ones, mostly because I am far more familiar with the Tudor history.  But this was worth reading.

Book #2 was a book I've been wanting to read ever since I saw that it had come out: Amy Wilentz's Farewell, Fred Voodoo.  I enjoy Wilentz's writing about Haiti; she loves this country, and her writing style is colorful and evocative, full of telling details.  Her most famous book is The Rainy Season, which came out in 1990.  I read it before I came to Haiti for the first time.  She has written countless articles on this country.  Her blog is always worth reading.  In this book she is less confident; she seems to be floundering, trying, like all of us, to come up with ways to live with the fact of the earthquake and its aftermath.  She questions everyone's motives (her own too, in powerful passages), and sometimes this got to be too much for me.  I found myself alternately sad, angry, and defensive.  She spends a lot of time trying to figure out what draws outsiders to Haiti and what holds them here.  I think all of us foreigners who live here do the same.  I can't argue with lots of her conclusions, but I couldn't stomach her suggestion that aid workers were gleeful to find out about cholera, because they could stay longer in their fancy Port-au-Prince digs: "it sounded breathless, almost eager: beyond the sadness of 'tragedy upon tragedy' is the possibility of more funding for aid organizations, more jobs, longer stays in this fascinating, troubled place - in nice new apartments, driving those big, air-conditioned Land Rovers.  It's not as if humanitarian workers are in the business for the big cars and nice apartments, but the sweet stuff comes with the territory, and the crisis caravan is used to it."  She seems obsessed with Sean Penn, and keeps coming back to him and what he's actually doing in Haiti.  She admits (rather grudgingly) that he has achieved a lot.  It's typical for journalists to be critical of those they write about, but I kept wondering, as she almost mockingly described one effort after another: what are they supposed to do, then?  (She doesn't know, she admits in a couple of places.  And honestly, nobody does.)  She says that people who complain about the corruption of the Haitian government are at least partly motivated by racism, but then in the next breath, gives examples of the corruption.  She is absolutely right that change has to come from within, not imposed by outsiders.  I found this book pretty painful to read, but probably much of that was the state I am in rather than anything wrong with the book itself.  The fourth anniversary of the quake rolled around last week, and I am less capable than ever of summing it all up, figuring it all out.  Wilentz feels the same, to a certain degree, and I think the best writing in this book is in the sections where she admits just how overwhelming it all is. 

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