Life in Haiti, before the recent earthquake but no less steeped in hardship and spiritual overcoming, is captured in interconnected stories by a gifted Haitian American. The book won the 2010 Iowa Short Fiction Award.
In sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes sharply ironic fashion, Phipps-Kettlewell writes of coping in a place where the lush surroundings are a constant reminder of how removed from paradise people are. Lives are routinely cut short by diseases that are treated too late or not at all, and casual murders that are never solved or avenged. Viewed through the author's intimate autobiographical lens, Haiti is a place where people with nothing to do become attuned to "the timelessness of time," where voodoo priests compete with corrupt politicians for influence, and where dreams of escape never die, even for those who fork over their life's savings to a returning djaspora whose boat to Miami has no chance of making it there with them. Broken into brief alternating sections, the longer stories, spanning years and generations, are compelling montages that reveal how family is redefined as orphaned children are passed to relatives, neighbors and even strangers. For one lonely old woman, a pack of dogs that sleeps nestled against her in strictly assigned positions become surrogate offspring. But as sad as the stories can get, the author’s empathy for her resilient subjects, and her grasp of the human comedy in depicting the creative ways downtrodden people keep hope alive, makes the book unexpectedly entertaining.
Brilliantly evocative contemporary stories about Haiti told by a personable native.