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Haiti: The Aftershocks of History Hardcover – January 3, 2012
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“Well-written, authoritative history… enriched by careful attention to what Haitian intellectuals have had to say about their country over the last two centuries.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“A sweeping, passionate history of Haiti... Smart, honest, and utterly compelling, this book is the national biography this country and its people deserve.” ―Boston Globe
“A book as welcome as it is timely: a lucid one-volume history of the nation, from Toussaint to the present, anchored in scholarship but rendered as a comprehensive-but-swift narrative for the general reader.” ―The Nation
“This excellent, engaging history seeks to strip away centuries of mocking and reductive bias. Dubois's Haiti is a land of ceaseless activity, a ferment of suppression and insurrection exacerbated by the mercenary intrusions of foreign powers--in the past century, chiefly the United States. Dubois also traces a parallel history of bold social experiments on the part of everyday Haitians… Throughout, he makes clear how economic pressures and political crises have left even the county's better leaders hamstrung, without downplaying their failures in fulfilling Haiti's great promise.” ―The New Yorker
“An admirable chronicle… Reading Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, I was repeatedly struck by the deep and detailed explanations of things that had never quite made sense to me about Haiti. Those ‘aha' moments were some of the most satisfying passages in this engrossing and deeply-researched book.” ―The Miami Herald
“A vigorous, knowledgeable and empathetic account... A pleasure to add to my collection of writings about Haiti.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“Fascinating… For anyone with even a little interest in Haiti, this book is an essential read.” ―Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Very few times have I been able to say that I learned something new about a subject with which I am ostensibly familiar. But this is the case on virtually every page of Laurent Dubois's Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. Dubois, the veritable dean of Haitian studies, has produced that rarest of things: a highly entertaining narrative for the general reader, but one deeply satisfying to the scholar as well. This brilliant book, a compelling and colorful saga of the triumph and tragedy of Haitian revolution and freedom, should be required reading for anyone who wonders from whence the ‘curse on Haiti' really emanated.” ―Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
“Laurent Dubois is an impeccable scholar and a master storyteller. Haiti: The Aftershocks of History is the new standard work in English on the astounding panorama of Haitian history, from the seismic events of its founding to the earthquake of 2010.” ―Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls' Rising
“Haiti’s history is tragic and noble, worth knowing for its own sake and essential to the country’s future. This book is an admirable synthesis of that history―sensible, comprehensive, and gracefully written.” ―Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains
“A masterpiece… For those who, perusing the headlines, sometimes find themselves moved to ask the perennial question ‘Why is Haiti like that?,' Laurent Dubois provides a brilliant and perceptive riposte. Wielding sharp, unsettling anecdotes and a flowing prose style, Dubois plumbs Haiti's rich and singular history--with its unlikely heroes and persuasive demons, its exploiters and its misérables, its compromisers and its intransigents--to teach us important and subtle lessons in revolution, occupation, and liberation. These lessons go well beyond the concerns of Haitianists to encompass the great surge of human history, which may well be bearing us, today, toward another similar age of revolution and upheaval.” ―Amy Wilentz, author of The Rainy Season
About the Author
Laurent Dubois is the author of Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2004. The Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke University, Dubois has written on Haiti for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and the New Yorker Web site, among other publications, and is the codirector of the Haiti Lab at the Franklin Humanities Institute. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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On the negative side however, this book is anything but impartial. Dubois clearly loves Haiti so he engages in sometimes unconvincing mental gymnastics to defend Haiti and blame all its troubles on outsiders - usually the US. The review in the New York times put it best: "Seldom, however, can outsiders be blamed for all a country's troubles". For example, Dubois is perfectly happy to quote Faustin Wirkus when he is critical of the US, but disbelieves his story that the inhabitants of Ile de la Gonave made him king.
I also take exception to his depiction of NGOs after the quake - about that, he is just plain wrong. I've been to Port-au-Prince with one of those organizations and they - along with the US military and UN peacekeeping forces - are doing indispensable work down there. If Dubois sees them as yet another infringement of Haitian sovereignty than I and the Haitians I have met (in direct contradiction to his book) must disagree. If there were no NGOs in Haiti (including Sean Penn and his organization) than the effects of the earthquake would be incalculably worse. The unintentional conclusion that Dubois seems to be asking his readers to draw is that no one should interfere with Haiti in any way - don't go there, don't send money, don't do anything. I know he doesn't want that, and if that were to occur, then thousands more would be dying of hunger, disease, exposure, and violence.
Dubois covers the Haitian Revolution and early Haitian history with a great deal of detail, discussing people and events that, if not well known, make for interesting reading. If Haiti until Duvalier is your interest, this is the book for you. However, everything from the rise of Papa Doc to the present day is crammed into the final chapter and the epilogue. I don't mean to suggest that the most important part of Haiti's history has happened during this period (and perhaps this is the point Dubois is trying to make), but given the intricate discussions of the many leaders, coups, and rebels of the 19th century, the light touch on the modern era is terribly disappointing. For example, the entire coverage of the second fall of Aristide is as follows: "But the bicentennial instead became the occasion for an uprising: in February 2004, a small group of former military officers took up arms against Aristide, approaching Port-au-Prince from the north. The U.S. government made it clear that it would not intervene to support him, and at the end of the month, Aristide left the country in circumstances that remain the subject of tremendous controversy. He was escorted by U.S. troops and officials, who claimed they were simply helding him to flee to safety; Aristide himself, however, described the event as a kidnapping." That's it. Mayby knowing that there was a controversy is enough, but I would prefer a little more discussion of it and the people involved with it. The 1991 coup is similarly dealt with in a sentence or two.
Reading news stories about Haiti is always confusing, given the political turmoil and constant international interventions. An analysis of those events about which we are (ostensibly) most familiar would have been a worthy subject for this book, or at least a worthy addition to it. Sadly, that analysis is lacking. Someone else is now left with the task of piecing together a coherent and informative story of Haiti in the modern era.
One additional point to echo what another reviewer wrote--objectivity is nowhere to be found in this work. Whatever his motivations were, Dubois goes to great lengths to avoid criticizing everyone other than the Duvaliers and a few other choice politicians, the United States, France, foreign companies, and foreign aid workers. This leaves him in the awkward position of simultaneously justifying failed democratic reforms, the refusal to initiate democratic reforms, the rise and rule of self-proclaimed emperors, the attempted integration into the global economy of the 1800s, the resistance to economic integration in the modern era, etc. Dubois is clearly rooting for Haiti and Haitians, and nobody should fault him for that, but because of his one-sidedness he ends up keeping the baby (a good thing) and the bathwater (a bad thing) and then saying the bathwater is champagne (a ridiculous thing).