The award-winning author recommends works by Marie Vieux-Chauvet, Katherine Dunham and more
Ben Fountain’s new novel, “Devil Makes Three,” is a political thriller set during Haiti’s 1991 coup d’état. Below, the author of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award, recommends other books about Haiti.
‘Love, Anger, Madness’ by Marie Vieux-Chauvet (1968)
This incendiary trilogy of novellas brought the wrath of the Duvalier regime down on its author, who was forced to flee to New York after the book’s publication. Vieux-Chauvet is unsparing in her depiction of Haiti, presenting characters who are pushed to the limits of sanity by the racism, economic duress and state terrorism that constrain their lives. Buy it here.
‘Moonbath’ by Yanick Lahens (2014)
Winner of both the Prix Femina and French Voices Award, Lahens’ incantatory novel cuts across four generations of a rural Haitian family. Their intergenerational traumas play out in an increasingly chaotic country in which Vodou is the common people’s surest source of strength and sustenance. Buy it here.
‘Island Possessed’ by Katherine Dunham (1969)
The famous American dancer, choreographer and Vodou priestess first visited Haiti in 1936, and this extraordinary memoir recounts her adventurous early years in the country. Dunham writes vividly about the politics, culture and religion of the island nation that quickly “possessed” her. Especially moving is her affair with the charismatic young parliamentarian who would later become Haiti’s president. Buy it here.
‘The Rainy Season’ by Amy Wilentz (1989)
Wilentz first arrived in Haiti in 1986, as the Duvalier regime was collapsing, and spent the next three years unraveling Haiti’s complexities. Wilentz’s blend of reportage, history and highly evocative memoir is still relevant — perhaps more than ever — 30 years after its publication. Buy it here.
‘Kanaval’ by Leah Gordon (2010)
One of several mind-bending books produced by the brilliant artist, curator and founder of the “Ghetto Biennale,” held every two years in Port-au-Prince. Gordon’s surreal images will haunt you, the blunt truths of the text no less. Every endeavor of this artist rewards the closest attention. Buy it here.
‘Haiti, History, and the Gods’ by Joan Dayan (1995)
Advanced Haitianology. Dayan bypasses, blows through and tunnels beneath accepted sources and narratives to get at the truer, more troubling histories found not only in overlooked or suppressed texts and documents, but in Vodou rituals, folk beliefs, songs, and art. The wisdom and insight of this book are inexhaustible. Buy it here.