The best books about Haitian history and Haiti today

Madison Smartt Bell Author Of Master of the Crossroads
By Madison Smartt Bell

The Books I Picked & Why

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

By Laurent Dubois

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

Why this book?

This history is the best and most up-to-date narrative account of the Haitian Revolution, its causes, and its consequences, available in English. The fact that Dubois trained as a fiction writer with Russell Banks makes the book unusually reader-friendly. Though it is much shorter, I would not hesitate to compare it to Shelby Foote’s magisterial three-volume Civil War narrative.


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The Big Truck That Went by: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster

By Jonathan M Katz

The Big Truck That Went by: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster

Why this book?

Katz was in Haiti as an AP stringer at the time of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port au Prince and was the only non-Haitian reporter to experience that event directly. He went on to do investigative reporting in the aftermath of the quake and was the one to discover that one of the UN deployments had introduced cholera into Haiti by building latrines that drained into the Artibonite River. Katz’s book is sharp and thorough on the damage done to Haiti by both well- and ill-intentioned foreign interference, and also includes a short, clear, efficient, and accurate history of the country from its eighteenth-century founding to the present.


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Les Enfants des Héros

By Lyonel Trouillot

Les Enfants des Héros

Why this book?

Lyonel Trouillot is one of the most powerful novelists of our time, extremely well known in the Francophone world, though less so in the US, in part because of the difficulty of translating his intensely lyrical prose. He has a rare ability to make artistically sound texts based on very immediate reportage on the various Haitian crises. This particular novel is especially valuable in the way it relates the desperation of Haitian life today to the country’s heroic past.


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Dance on the Volcano

By Marie Vieux-Chauvet

Dance on the Volcano

Why this book?

Chauvet is another of the all-time great Haitian novelist, best known for her Amour, Colère, Folie, which depicted the horrors of the Duvalier regime--- obliquely and somewhat allegorically, but sharply enough that the book was banned and most copies destroyed—it did not become generally available until after the author’s death. La Danse sur le Volcan, a historical novel, is equally powerful and gives a wonderfully complete and complex view of all the complications of race, class, and culture that existed in Haiti while still a French sugar colony, on the eve of Revolution.


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Nan Domi: An Initiate's Journey Into Haitian Vodou

By Mimerose Beaubrun

Nan Domi: An Initiate's Journey Into Haitian Vodou

Why this book?

Nan Domi is the only book I know of that reports on the interior, private, mystical practices of Vodou—one of the world’s great religions, though much misunderstood and despised outside of Haiti. A preface I wrote for the book gives an efficient introduction to the basic history, beliefs, and practices of Vodou, providing the necessary context for Beaubrun’s more esoteric text.


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