When the Ground Stopped Shaking in Haiti

God Loves Haiti: A Novel, by Dimitry Elias Léger, (Amistad), 272 pages, release date January 6, 2015

Dimitry Elias Léger’s God Loves Haiti is a surprising and engaging read. Set in Port-au-Prince during and in the days immediately following the Haitian earthquake, the book focuses on a group of fictional characters who hold what are real positions in Haitian politics (President, ex-President, First Lady, and a young political activist). This leads to a certain amount of speculation. To what extent is the novel a general commentary on the nature of Haitian politics and society? To what extent is it a specific examination of the behavior of somewhat disguised, but real people who were key figures in events post-earthquake?

The ex-President is a former Catholic priest now living in South Africa, rather like Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former two-time president of Haiti who completed neither term in office because of military coups. His character seems most closely aligned with a real-world equivalent, but he’s also the least significant of the novel’s central characters. The President, First Lady, and activist are more distinct from their real-world counterparts. The fictional characters may share some thoughts and attitudes with the real-world individuals, but their biographies differ enough to prevent one reading the novel as thinly disguised nonfiction.

The novel is set during the earthquake, but the central characters are major figures whose experiences are far different from those of ordinary Haitians. As a result, the reader observes the earthquake, but doesn’t really experience it. The destruction always seems to be just outside the novel’s action.

Nonetheless, God Loves Haiti offers a fascinating glimpse of life in this nation, its pre-earthquake challenges, and the way those challenges are increased exponentially by the disaster. During a visit to New York to meet with various heads of state at the U.N., the President is shown a chart estimating the rubble from the Haitian quake to be twenty times that produced in the destruction of the World Trade Center. He finds himself musing:

It took New York one entire year to clear the rubble of its ground zero, and nearly ten years later they had yet to finish constructing a worthy replacement, and that disaster was located in the center of one of the wealthiest cities in the world…. If politics and grief could paralyze mighty New York, how much time will the Haitians need?

Léger deftly balances tragedy and dark humor, which keeps the novel from becoming overwhelming. A love triangle between three of the main characters plays out in surprising ways that acknowledge, but serve as counterpoint to, the destruction. This is a book well worth reading and one that leaves me looking forward to Léger’s next work.

January 05 2015 05:53 am | Uncategorized

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