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A Wedding in Haiti Hardcover – Unabridged, April 24, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Author One-on-One: Julia Alvarez and Mark Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky, the bestselling author of The Food of a Younger Land, Cod and the upcoming Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, interviews Julia Alvarez about A Wedding in Haiti.

Julia Alvarez

Mark Kurlansky: As a Dominican growing up around Haitians and next door to Haiti what was your impression of Haiti and Haitians and what surprised you when you went there?

Actually, there weren't many Haitians around when I was growing up in the 50s, under the dictatorship of Trujillo. The border had been closed since the massacre of 1937, when Haitians living on the Dominican side were killed by the military (from 4,000 to 40,000--the figures vary wildly).

I knew only one Haitian, Chucha, who was the nanny over at my cousins' house. The story was that during the massacre, Chucha had walked all the way from the southwest border to the capital and knocked at my great aunt's door, asking for asylum. My great aunt took her in. Chucha stayed for the rest of her life. When she was in a good mood, Chucha told incredible stories. So, that was my impression of our neighbor country: a place of cranky people who could tell the best stories.

What I absorbed from the culture was that Haiti was the benighted country next door, where Vodou was the religion, instead of our enlightened Christianity. Haitians were the "real blacks," whereas black Dominicans were "indios oscuros" (dark Indians). Haiti was the enemy who had invaded us and occupied our country for twenty-two years. (Interestingly, Dominicans celebrate their independence, not from their colonizer Spain, but from Haiti.) At night, when I didn't want to go to sleep, I'd be threatened with the Haitian cuco (boogeyman) who was going to come take me away to Haiti. Of course, this threat only served to pique my interest!

Given that I was curious about Haiti, I'm surprised that I didn't make more of an effort to go "next door" when I returned often to the D.R. All the red tape required to cross the border discouraged me, but I think there was also a subliminal fear and shame based on the 1937 massacre, never fully acknowledged by my country. I assumed that as someone of Dominican heritage and white, I would be unwelcomed, until I was invited by Piti to attend his wedding.

What surprised me were the many similarities between Haiti and the D.R.--despite our different histories, languages, cultures. Haitians were making casave, a staple of the Dominican diet as well. Their beer, Prestige, tasted like our beer, Presidente. (Even the names had a similar ego-boosting feel to them!) The sayings, which are the way popular wisdom gets passed down in our oral cultures, were often the same ones in Kreyòl as in Spanish. These might seem superficial things, but they signaled a deep connection between our two countries.

I was impressed by how much more resourceful the Haitians were. As a poorer country, they don't waste anything. The culture, especially out in the countryside, is less "corrupted" by Americanized and globalized influences. No McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chickens, no ads for Coke, though we did see a big truck with OBAMA painted on the side of the trailer.

Read the rest of the interview

Review’s Best Books of 2012

Named one of the Top 10 Best Latino Authors for 2012 by

“She is the ideal travel companion―witty and observant and, as in all of Julia Alvarez’s writing, compassionate and full of heart. A Wedding In Haiti is a great experience and its unaffected prose is as true a portrait of complex Haiti as you will find.”
―Mark Kurlansky

“[A] beguiling memoir of family and culture.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

“A sudden promise leads an acclaimed author on the journey—and to the wedding—of a lifetime . . . [An] extraordinary story.”—Marie Claire

“An open-eyed view of Haiti before and after the earthquake . . . A Wedding in Haiti is Alvarez's view into the rural Haitian family life that never makes the news.”—The Associated Press

“Award-winning Dominican writer Julia Alvarez finally, sweetly, gets to know her sister country as she travels to a friend’s fete.”—Ebony

“Alvarez’s devotion, her admiration and hope, and most clearly, the love for her extended family, is palpable throughout.”—The Christian Science Monitor

“Heartbreaking and humorous, simple and elusive.” —Ms. Magazine blog

“A moving message about the nature of poverty, human love, and their opposites.”

“A glimpse into the heart of a complex country during a tumultuous time.”—National Geographic Traveler

“This beautiful memoir from Alvarez is a look at Haiti through an unlikely friendship . . . Wonderfully told.”—New York Post

“A memoir with the structure and impact of a novel . . . It is hopeful, folksy, sobering and graceful with good story-telling.”—Asheville Citizen-Times

“Touching, funny, eye-opening and uplifting.”  The Seattle Times

“A compelling account of friendship, loyalty and perseverance.”—Philadelphia Citypaper

“A deeply personal story of family and connection that casts a light on larger issues of global community and the need for unity, compassion, and understanding.”—Shelf Awareness, starred review

 “Beautifully told and moving, Alvarez's memoir serves to introduce readers to all Haiti once was — and what it could be again.”—

 “Warm, funny and compassionate.”—Kirkus Reviews

 “A moving homage to the Haitian people.” —Publishers Weekly

 "[Alvarez's] unaffected prose and her warm and caring voice make this intimate introduction to a troubled country one many readers will savor."—Booklist


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616201304
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616201302
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Julia Alvarez has bridged the Americas many times. Born in New York and raised in the Dominican Republic, she is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist, author of world-renowned books in each of the genres, including How the García Girls Lost their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies, and Something to Declare. She lives on a farmstead outside Middlebury, Vermont, with her husband Bill Eichner. Visit Julia's Web site here to find out more about her writing.

Julia and Bill own an organic coffee farm called Alta Gracia in her native country of the Dominican Republic. Their specialty coffee is grown high in the mountains on what was once depleted pastureland. Not only do they grow coffee at Alta Gracia, but they also work to bring social, environmental, spiritual, and political change for the families who work on their farm. They use the traditional methods of shad-grown coffee farming in order to protect the environment, they pay their farmers a fair and living wage, and they have a school on their farm where children and adults learn to read and write. For more information about Alta Gracia, visit their website.

Belkis Ramírez, who created the woodcuts for A Cafecito Story, is one of the most celebrated artists in the Dominican Republic.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Susy on April 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As soon as I heard about A Wedding in Haiti, I ordered the Kindle version because Julia Alvarez is one of my favorite authors. The descriptions of how things are here{ I live here in DR} are bang on!! I love the part about crossing the border because it is exactly how it is. The bickering that occurs on road trips, especially road trips here, where, well roads disappear was hilarious. My favorite part is her description of how life gets complicated here, once one starts living, caring and loving being here. I couldn't stop reading until the last word.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Micki Smith on May 14, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Alvarez never fails to keep the reader's attention. Thinking this book historical fiction like many of her previous writings, I was delighted to find this a record of wonderful family support and intensity. The reports on post earthquake Port-au-Prince were intriguing. Alvarez raises a very important issue at the end: will all the outside NGO assistance really change Haiti's plight or will international political power continue to ignore the underlying causes of Haiti's poverty and culture. Alvarez remains my 21st century favorite female author. A must read for lovers of cultural insights, realistic human interaction, and current day political intracies.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Thereya on August 7, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love Julia Alvarez. I doubt we have the same political leanings and I know we aren't the same religion or socio-economic bracket. To be honest, we might not get along if we met. But I love her books. She's got the kind of clear writing voice that aspiring authors dream of and she lives life as an adventure, which I greatly admire. She also knows which stories to tell and to my knowledge has never written a bad book. This book was also great. To people comparing her to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this is a personal travel narrative, it isn't meant to be poignant literature. Just because both authors often write about South and Central America doesn't mean they write in the same genre or for the same audience.

That being said, this is her story about several trips to Haiti with a family friend. It reads as honest, compelling and gives a depiction of day to day life in a country that has a lot of poor or inaccurate information being released about it. If you like Alvarez, you'll like this book. If you're curious about Haiti, you'll like this book. I'd highly recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sherri Rosen on June 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is such a well written book, and the author takes you on the amazing and arduous trip. You really do feel you are traveling
with them on their trips to Haiti. You experience the joy, the suffering, the challenges, and you realize how fortunate we are
to be living in our country that has so many conveniences, but unfortunately not the same kind of beautiful connections that the
author writes about the people she was involved with in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Read it. You will enjoy and learn so much about being alive, about the people in Haiti. About not giving up.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rudert on May 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A couple of things for the reader to bear in mind. When I first went to the DR as a 1st tour Foreign Service Officer back in 1978, the Haiti/Dominican border used to be one of the few political borders visible from space because of massive deforestation on the Haitian side and less people/adequate controls on the Dominican side. Back then the only Haitians you would find in the DR were the Haitians cutting the sugar cane. Coffee farmers used dominicans to harvest coffee and manage their farms - not haitians such as Julia Alvarez does today. Haitians now completely dominate all aspects of the Dominican low salary labor market and their encroachment into the DR along the border has eliminated the visible border difference from space - just look at GoogleEarth. However the cultures remain quite different and travel by Dominicans into Haiti remains quite limited, especially across the Northern border crossing. This is why Ms. Alvarez's travelogue and her observations are so special, such as the mango ladies near her destination in Haiti. She really brings it to life. I did the same trip back in 1998 from Dajabon to Cape Haitien when I was only allowed to pass because my car had diplomatic license plates. The only other vehicle allowed to pass was a daily truck filled with Dominican ice that went to Cape Haitien.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lori on May 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having just returned from a week-long mission trip to Limbe, Haiti, when I heard the author interviewed on NPR, I knew I had to read this book. Her descriptions of Haiti are spot-on and provided me with some needed insight. Despite the unbelievable poverty and total lack of infrastructure, the author allows the strength and beauty of the Haitian people to shine through, with a sense of humor to boot.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Julia Alvarez has always seemed quite comfortable with reality. Even in her other books, filled with the stories of intertwining relationships between people and the government, there is the sense, the hope, that someday things will work out. Torture and corruption may be on the menu today, but tomorrow it could be filled with cooperation and strength. A WEDDING IN HAITI is a memoir, but it follows the same trajectory; even amidst the rubble of destruction, there is a chance for redemption and rebuilding.
When Alvarez and her husband first bought and then built up a larger coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic, from where the novelist hails, they had no clue that one worker on their land would turn out to be the reason they experience the adventures put forth in this remarkable memoir. A young man named Piti is a great help on the farm and is filled with a joy of life that compels everyone around him to love him. At some point, so taken is he with Alvarez and her husband that he tells her he will be expecting them at his wedding someday. She puts it out of her head until one day, back in Middlebury, Vermont, where the couple lives most of the year, she receives a call from Piti, claiming that his wedding has been arranged and she and her husband should come down for it.

Alvarez takes him up on it and finds herself, days later, taking a nine-hour trek through the Dominican Republic to Haiti to experience Piti's big day. He also asks them to be the godparents to his four-month-old daughter, a stunner named Ludy. It is love at first sight, but the rough tides in Haiti sweep them into strange and exotic and often frighteningly sad situations.
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