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Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance

5.0 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801487484
ISBN-10: 080148748X
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"What I have witnessed, I have no tongue to tell," says one of the 38 Haitian women who express themselves here. A lyrical but trenchant foreword by Edwidge Danticat and succinct author introductions by Bell (director of Albuquerque's Center for Economic Justice) provide historical and personal contexts for the narratives, or "istwa" (a Creole word "meaning both story and history"), that follow. Many of the women address the random arrests, sadistic torture, savage beatings and violent sexual abuse inflicted upon them by the state and by a sexist social structure. Taken collectively, the women (interviewed largely between 1991 and 1994, during Haiti's brief period with a popularly elected government) tell the same story "survival, resistance, and occasional triumph by women with little formal power." Individually, each voice is unique. One has been a minister of the Status and Rights of Women; another was given away as a child slave. There's also a market woman, a labor organizer and a nurse; a woman with graduate degrees, women who have lived abroad and women who have never left their villages. They are joined by their resistance to oppression. For some, mere survival is an act of resistance. Others resist through poetry, journalism, dance or painting. Some are even involved in political activism, women's advocacy and reestablishing economic and political structures. This is painful reading; it shows much suffering but also much remarkable transcendence. Bell's book vocalizes this, but its point is not merely archival. These testimonies are meant to move readers to action. "I want to make the big ears listen," says Lelenne Gilles. "I'll die with the words on my lips."

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Most people know that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but what that means for the Haitian people is usually lost in a morass of statistical data. In this moving book on opposing tyranny and degradation, activist Bell, who is the founder and director of the Center for Economic Justice in Albuquerque, NM, gives face to the numbers by providing a forum for indigenous women to speak about their lives. Some of the 38 oral histories here come from illiterate farmers and market women. Other informants are well schooled, earning far more than subsistence wages as teachers and writers. Nonetheless, all of Bell's sources are dedicated to the alleviation of poverty and believe that food, housing, and education are entitlements and that gender equity is inseparable from economic justice. Their articulate views make for exciting reading. Likewise, their resistance to the status quo is inspiring. An antidote to cynicism, the book not only introduces American readers to an array of courageous role models but also proves that change is possible. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (December 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080148748X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801487484
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #911,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Beverly Bells Walking on Fire is extraordinary in that it brings to print first-person narratives of excruciating and harrowing violence, which are at once narratives of survival, resistance and overcoming. Bells book is effectively an edited volume of (mostly poor, mostly non-literate) Haitian womens testimonies about life in Haiti during and after the coup-etat against Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1994), framed by Bells contextualizing analysis. Entering the anthropological conversations about everyday acts of resistance generated by James C. Scott (1990) Bells central argument is that Haitian women engage in resistance, or "the negotiation of power by the weaker against the strong," in many ways that are usually overlooked, and that "the definition of resistance is expanded to include any act that keeps the margins of power from being further encroached upon, even where the protagonist cannot expand those margins." Trapped at the bottom of a system of structured inequality, "if [a woman] does no more than maintain her resources and rights in the face of attempts by other people, institutions, or systems to deny her them then she practices resistance." (p. 5)
Most of the women featured in the volume are members of one of the loosely organized coalitions of grassroots groups known as the "popular movement." Each woman, then, is engaged in some aspect of political organizing, collective action or cooperative living. A central theme in the women's narratives is that it is through collective efforts that meaning-making analysis is forged and dignity is recovered. In Bell's book, poor Haitian women come to an understanding of their situation, their victimization and themselves, that allows them to recover the selves that have been traumatized.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Although the interviews in this book are somewhat dated, much of what is presented is still representative of the status of women in Haiti. Women in Haiti are still bravely fighting the same battles, with the addition of earthquake-related challenges and several new public health concerns. If you're looking for specifics of the situation of Haitian women today, you will need to supplement the material in this book, but it remains a viable source for understanding long-term societal concerns. I would rate it a classic in the field.
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A collection of truly moving stories from the women of Haiti. With excellent introductions to the historical context, these narratives are poignant and challenging. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the people of Haiti.
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I've been to Haiti and this book really made an impression on me...it tells the stories of so many women, in their own words and helps to explain many things that I have suspected about the very hard lives of the Haitian people and the women in particular.
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I love this book. It is a great book with amazing stories of resistance and strength. A must read for all women.
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