WHY THE COCKS FIGHT by Michele Wucker

WHY THE COCKS FIGHT

Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Wucker’s first book is a richly textured social history of Hispaniola. Wucker, a freelance writer specializing in Caribbean affairs, unveils the seemingly chaotic yet ritualistic world of the Dominicans and Haitians. Her approach is historical but not chronological, moving back and forth from the time of Columbus to the 20th century and through the intervening years to emphasize recurring themes rather than a linear story. In the process, we move from one strongman and atrocity to another, e.g., conquering Spaniards complain about the noisiness of natives when they are punished by being roasted alive; Trujillo massacres at least 15,000 Haitians residing within the Dominican Republic in 1937; and the Duvaliers arrogantly loot their own country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Prejudices between Dominicans and Haitians, extreme differences in wealth, and a history of heavy-handed foreign intervention make Hispaniola a powder keg, yet the definitive explosion never occurs. For Wucker the explanation lies more in space than time; two nations share one island in a perpetual turf war paralleling the popular pastime of its residents, the cockfight. She argues that the cockfight is a symbol “of both division and community,” a combat which occurs within strict rules accepted by all as social norms. We are simultaneously horrified and fascinated because it presents an ugliness within ourselves, the natural aggression that emerges when one’s territory is threatened. For humans the contested space is more complex than the closed ring of the cocks—“it can be physical, economic, emotional, or cultural”—and the island’s geographic limits intensify the struggle. While the metaphor is suggestive, however, the cockfight is designed to pit equal combatants against each other, and among humans equality is in short supply on Hispaniola. Perhaps this explains why the victorious cock brings glory to his owner, yet the victors in the human competition have hardly been inspiring. A powerful cultural analysis. (b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8090-3719-X
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999




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