On the troubled half-island of Haiti, love, power, and poverty collide, as do a tough Florida cop, a beautiful singer, politicians, and the United Nations post-2004 peacekeeping mission.
Former Deputy Sheriff Terry White comes to Haiti after a failed try at politics in Florida and an affair that shakes his marriage to Kay. He joins the U.N. police force and befriends Johel Celestin, a Haitian trained as a lawyer in the U.S. who works on the island with the U.N. Terry’s urging persuades Johel to run for a Senate seat long held by the powerful Maxim Bayard. Terry also has begun an affair with Johel’s wife, the singer Nadia. Then Kay comes to Haiti to help with Johel’s campaign, and all the ingredients of an equatorial soap opera are present. But Berlinski (Fieldwork, 2007) avoids melodrama with a no-nonsense voice that never loses sight of the grim facts behind the fiction. “I had never been anyplace so dysfunctional, so rotten, or so very fascinating,” says the unnamed American novelist who narrates, a man friendly with but arm’s length from all the characters whose back stories he provides. He and the book spend a lot of time with visiting whites and the well-off native establishment because they are the malevolent or well-meaning people who have so often failed one of the world’s poorest nations. Johel’s campaign pledge, a road to bring goods in and out of a cut-off area, is typical of the relatively simple fixes that have been held back or hamstrung by corruption and mismanagement. Tensions rise along with Johel’s popularity as the election and, not incidentally, the 2010 earthquake draw near.
Berlinksi, whose Fieldwork was nominated for a National Book Award, is a kind of heir to Graham Greene and Robert Stone, both for his excellent storytelling and for the way it can reveal a bigger picture.