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Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti
Simon & Schuster, 2013
352 pp., $16.00
Haiti Is the Future
Since the 2010 earthquakes, thousands of well-intentioned Americans have traveled to Haiti as missionaries or aid workers. Some didn't expect development work to be complicated, or thought they could fix everything on a short trip, and they sometimes experienced bitter disappointments when their efforts failed or spectacularly backfired. Those still contemplating a trip to Haiti will benefit from reading Amy Wilentz's book, which provides many cautionary tales on the theme "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." But it provides much more than that. Wilentz is an American journalist who has lived in Haiti and returned for visits many times over a span of more than twenty years and has thus a long acquaintance with the country's history, language, and people. She is best known for her 1989 book The Rainy Season, which contributed in particular to make Jean-Bertrand Aristide—the liberation theology priest who became president of Haiti in 1990—known to the American public. (Wilentz was a strong supporter of Aristide at the time even though she later on distanced herself from him.) She offers in this new book much more than a travel diary: a long "letter from Haiti," providing a wealth of information about Haiti's current situation, nicely blended with personal reflections and precious food for thought about Haiti and the country's relations with the outside world.
The book seeks to counter common misrepresentations of Haiti and to balance the prevailing discourses on Haiti in the United States and the rest of the Western world. Contrary to what the title suggests, there is little in the book about Voodoo (or Vodou). Wilentz explains that the "Fred Voodoo" of the title "is the old foreign correspondents' tongue-in-cheek name for the Haitian man in the street." She wants to bid farewell to the Haitian equivalent of Joe Sixpack and debunk deep-rooted clichés; her book attempts to present to the American public the Haitian's point of view, an explanation ...