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Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti Hardcover – January 8, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451643977
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451643978
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,364 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Zestfully candid, award-winning journalist Wilentz began her love affair with Haiti in 1986, and she has been exploring the country and its unique culture, history, and torrid relationship with the U.S. ever since. The catalyst for this ripping inquiry is what Wilentz observed during her sojourns in the wake of the horrific 2010 earthquake. Attuned to all the irony of her white outsider status even as she draws on her deep knowledge of Haiti’s strength and struggles, she picks her way through the heartbreaking ruins and wretchedly inadequate camps, listening to post-quake hip-hop in the midst of chaos, blood, and misery and taking stern measure of international do-gooders. Wilentz is fierce in her criticism of missions of self-aggrandizement rather than aid and the pornographic aspects of media coverage. Writing with brandishing intensity, wit, skepticism, and indignation, Wilentz exposes systemic corruption, attends a voodoo ceremony, considers zombies and dictators, and marvels over everyday survival. She profiles two seriously committed and effective American heroes, physician Megan Coffee and Sean Penn, while her portraits of Haitians instruct and humble us. --Donna Seaman


Farewell, Fred Voodoo showcases all [Wilentz’s] formidable gifts as a reporter: her love of, and intimate familiarity with, Haiti; her sense of historical perspective; and her eye for the revealing detail. Like Joan Didion and V. S. Naipaul, she has an ability not only to provide a visceral, physical feel for a place, but also to communicate an existential sense of what it’s like to be there as a journalist with a very specific and sometimes highly subjective relationship with her subject.” (Michiko Kakutani The New York Times)

“Excellent….Wilentz matches [Joan Didion] for note-perfect prose and unflinching inquiry…. Wilentz is an artful guide…. [An] intimate, honest, bracingly unsentimental book.” (Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk The New York Times Book Review)

“Excellent and illuminating….a love letter to—and a lament for—Haiti, a country with an already strange and tortured history that became even more tragic, interesting and convoluted in the months after the earthquake…. [Wilentz] brings to Haiti empathy and her great skills as a narrator….it's Wilentz's honesty about her own role in Haiti and that of so many other American visitors to that country that ultimately distinguishes her book most from other works that cover similar terrain.” (Los Angeles Times)

"A veteran journalist captures the functioning chaos of Haiti. ... An extraordinarily frank cultural study/memoir that eschews platitudes of both tragedy and hope." (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

Farewell, Fred Voodoo is engrossing and gorgeous and funny, a meticulously reported story of love for a maddening place. Wilentz’s writing is so lyrical it’s like hearing a song – in this case, the magical, confounding, sad song of Haiti.” (Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin)

Farewell, Fred Voodoo is written with authority and great affection for Haiti and Haitians and for those who are trying to help them. An informative and wonderful piece of writing, it is a work of considerable artistry, immensely evocative. I read it with pleasure and with mounting gratitude.” (Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains)

“Amy Wilentz is a brilliant writer, an ace journalist and, perhaps most important, she is not an outsider. She's the perfect guide through the heartbreak and beauty of post-earthquake Haiti. I was gripped by her respectful and first-hand reporting on Voodoo, and impressed by her enormous sensitivity to the crushing deprivation most Haitians endure.” (Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed)

“Amy Wilentz knows Haiti deeply: its language, its tragic history, the foibles of her fellow Americans who often miss the story there. This makes her a wise, wry, indispensable guide to a country whose fate has long been so interwoven with our own.” (Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost)

“I can't imagine there's a better book about Haiti—a smarter, more thoughtful, tough-minded, romantic, plainspoken, intimate, well-reported book. Amy Wilentz has paid exceptionally close attention to this dreamy, nightmarish place for a quarter century, and with Farewell, Fred Voodoo she turns all that careful watching and thinking into a riveting work of nonfiction literature.” (Kurt Andersen, author of Heyday and True Believers)

“With great storytelling and a wry sense of human comedy, Amy Wilentz explains Haiti—its characters, its romance, and its unique place in world history—and brings it all to life with passion.” (Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod and Salt)

“No one has plumbed Haiti more thoroughly, or explored it more passionately, than Amy Wilentz. In Farewell, Fred Voodoo, she embraces that obsession and follows it unflinchingly where it leads, deep into the phantasmagoria of Haiti—and into herself. She has written a beautiful, compelling book.” (Mark Danner, author of Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War)

Customer Reviews

For the most part, the locals we deal with are well educated.
Cemile Guldal
Highly accurate appraisal of total situation especially with regard to our inept attempts to render aid that frequently confounds rather than helps.
fred morton
I would make this book mandatory reading for anyone interested in helping the beautiful people of Haiti.
Charles D. Watkins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Big Wind on January 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
An essential portrait of a place most people know only through headlines and horror stories and caricature. Amy Wilentz's book will make you feel the dust, the rain and the misery -- but most importantly, the humanity as it is distilled through her highly complex reactions to what she has seen. It is also a fascinating self portrait of an American writer. An indelible travel book that deserves its place alongside Joan Didion's Salvador and Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia. Highly recommended!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jill Dulitsky on May 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I am on the Board of a medical non-for profit in Haiti. We sponsor Haitian healthcare workers who provide mobile medical care in underserved areas. If you are interested in Haiti, this book is worth reading.

Positives: Thought the book is very well written and does a better job than any other book of explaining the Haitian NGO dilemma. The book keeps you engaged throughout and is certainly very thought-provoking.

Negatives: I wanted to scream out loud at the author at various times throughout the book. I feel she makes ethical decisions on what's right and what's wrong based on her own lens. For example, healthcare NGO workers right, journalists (except for her, wrong). Dr. Mark Hyman, wrong, Dr. Megan Coffey, right. Her commentary sometimes seems like a personal vendetta at times and is filled with contradictions. It almost becomes autobiographical at times. For example, at one point she says that she can't help that believe what she has done in Haiti is useless and then a page later, she says that "to lose all hope is nihilism". Finally, she seems to believe that all people involved in Haiti are there to "be able to save themselves, setting the scene for the future rescue of humanity." Maybe her view of painting all white people in Haiti with the same paint brush is not too dissimilar from her bashing of all white people painting all Haitians with the same paint brush?

You're probably wondering, if I have some many negative comments, why give the book four stars? The running commentary about the failure of NGOs, about right and wrong, about useful versus useless, etc. make you think. Without it, the book would probably be just another "well written book on Haiti." With it, the book is infuriatingly good.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great insight and sympathy for the unending tragedy of Haiti and the effects of continuing exterior and interior "extractive" forces on a culture and individuals. Probably as close as one can get inside the mind and soul of people who sometimes seem so "other" to outsiders.

Super writing. Quite vivid but a perhaps a little too cynical. I would have appreciated a little less of the leitmotif of "white guilt" or reproachful voyeurism that tends to run through the work. Apologies are not needed for trying to understand and relate to a people who deserve better than they have suffered.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By JMT on February 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The observations and musings of Amy Wilentz are wanderings in familiar settings altered by the earthquake two years ago. Her historical perspective, coupled with the objectivity of an investigative reporter, gives a very real sense of Haiti, Haitians, ex-patriots, and especially Americans. Those who are involved in Haiti should not only read this, but should study her messages. Their mission and goals might be modified for the better.

I have profound regrets that she, like all expatriates, totally ignores the North and particularly the area including and surrounding Cap-Haitien. In many ways Cap-Haitien has been spared the distortions of massive NGO/expatriot activities and that has been beneficial. On the other hand, it has suffered from benign neglect. Perhaps it is fortunate that there have been no Bill Clintons, but it is unfortunate that there are no Sean Penns. I would wish that Ms Wilentz would spend more time in the North during her next visit.

J. Michael Taylor, MD, MPH
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By James J. Kean on May 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I found the author's cynicism and "know it all about Haiti" tiring. By the end of the book, I came to the conclusion that the author is showing that both life and Haiti have passed her by, and that things were better for her back in the 80's/90's.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Holly H on February 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an extraordinarily well-informed book. For all of us who try to understand how to be helpful in Haiti, too often we forget a fundamental necessity to understand why we're motivated to do so. Enormous damage is done by acting out of ignorance of the "other" and, maybe more important, ignorance of ourselves.

Read this book. Never again will you dare to think that you have the answers to someone else's problem.
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Accessible and engaging as both narrative of post earthquake Haiti and a summation of the author's 20 year history of traveling and writing on the country. The main crux of the book is that aid is not working as its delivered via NGO's and large development entities such as , IOM and USAID as it is inefficiently rendered and does not take include the Haitian people in the decision process. We meet a variety of characters both Haitian and "blan", foreign in Haiti and Haitian and there is a positive example of aid done right in the person of Dr. Megan Coffee who runs a TB word in Port au Prince. The section where she debunks the myth of the "planting the magical tree" that will save Haiti is funny but also succinctly captures the problem of outsiders coming to Haiti and offering solutions without considering the need, wants, or culture of the people they want to help. The book is a bit scattershot, and occasionally over the top but has some great information and insights and is both entertaining and emotional. My favorite leitmotif is about Haitian history and politics in relations to the use of voodoo.
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More About the Author

I grew up in a small, industrial town in New Jersey, a place unimaginably distant in every way from my latest home in Los Angeles, where I live with my husband and three sons. I moved to California as Arnold Schwarzenegger was making his political debut, and I wrote a book about it. But since the earthquake in Port-au-Prince in January, my heart has returned with a crash to Haiti, the country that made me, as a writer. Haitians are still dealing every day with the horror and reality of the quake. And in my way, I'm still wrestling with what it means to me to lose so much and so many. My reaction has been to write, of course -- and to attempt to focus the proper kind of outside attention on Haiti. But I'm also trying in my own way to be of use; helping to support a little boy who lost both hands when a wall fell on him, trying to put together a library of images of Haitian art that was destroyed in the quake, and even thinking about going down to help rebuild, although I am definitely more efficient with a keyboard than with a hammer. Meanwhile, my publisher is reissuing The Rainy Season, my book about Haiti, with a new, post-quake introduction. I'm amazed at how I continue to be drawn to the country and to identify with it -- to feel shattered when it is shattered, to be happy on the rare days when things are going well, to be okay in those long stretches when things are pretty much all right. I trust in a lot of cliches in these moments of enormous tragedy, the main one being this: maybe out of the rubble will emerge something new, maybe even something better, but something still beautiful, still authentic, still Haitian.

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Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti
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