The best novels for understanding Haiti

Michele Wucker Author Of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola
By Michele Wucker

Who am I?

A love of literature and a summer with relatives in Belgium—a country divided by language and culture—inspired me to travel to Santo Domingo in 1988 to learn Spanish and study the fraught dynamics of two countries speaking different languages but sharing an island. My time in the Dominican Republic and Haiti inspired a lifelong exploration of complex issues. Today I write about risk, drawing on psychology, culture, policy, and economics, as in Why the Cocks Fight. My third book, The Gray Rhino, calls for a fresh look at obvious, looming threats. The sequel, You Are What You Risk, explores risk perceptions and attitudes through a comparative, socio-cultural lens.


I wrote...

Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola

By Michele Wucker,

Book cover of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola

What is my book about?

Like two roosters in a fighting arena, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are trapped by barriers of geography and poverty. One French-speaking and black, one Spanish-speaking and mulatto, the two countries co-inhabit the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. They share a national symbol in the rooster and a favorite sport in the cockfight. Just as the owners of gamecocks contrive battles between their birds as a way of playing out human conflicts, Haitian and Dominican leaders often stir up nationalist disputes and exaggerate cultural and racial differences in order to deflect other tensions. Why the Cocks Fight explores the relations of each nation with each other and with colonial powers including the United States; and how their shared history impacts contemporary dynamics. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

What Storm, What Thunder

By Myriam J A Chancy,

Book cover of What Storm, What Thunder

Why this book?

It’s impossible to understand contemporary Haiti without recognizing the impact of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, taking an estimated 300,000 lives and destroying many of the iconic historical sites in the capital city, Port-au-Prince. Chancy’s powerful novel of tragedy and resilience depicts the lead-up to and aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake via the interlinked stories of ten characters from different walks of life. These stories drive home both how different the experience of Haiti can be depending on socioeconomic class and race; yet also how connected so many Haitian stories are to each other.

What Storm, What Thunder

By Myriam J A Chancy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Storm, What Thunder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Dew Breaker

By Edwidge Danticat,

Book cover of The Dew Breaker

Why this book?

The work of this rightfully acclaimed Haitian-American writer spans nonfiction and fiction, weaving historical memory in with present-day Haiti. This 2004 novel, told through related short stories, draws its title from the name of torturers under the regimes of the Duvaliers, father and son: François “Papa Doc” from 1957 to 1971 and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” from 1971 until a popular uprising sent him into exile in 1986. Danticat draws on that period as well as contemporary issues like the ordeals of immigrants; the police killing of Haitian immigrant Patrick Dorismond in New York in 2000; the FRAPH government thugs who terrorized Haitians after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide; the experiences of Haitian women; and the impact of trauma on families and relationships.

The Dew Breaker

By Edwidge Danticat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dew Breaker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Comedians

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of The Comedians

Why this book?

The first time I went to Haiti, I stayed at the Hotel Oloffson, which appeared as the “Hotel Trianon” in this classic 1966 novel by a literary legend, later a movie starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The Comedians depicts Haiti under the rule of the dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his feared trenchmen, the tontons macoutes, named for the feared Uncle Strawsack of Haitian folklore (and the predecessors of FRAPH). Duvalier of course was long gone, but I briefly met the gossip columnist, Aubelin Jolicoeur, who inspired Greene’s character Petit Pierre. In the novel, the white Victorian “gingerbread” style hotel is owned by an Englishman, Brown, who is pulled into various political intrigues after a government minister commits suicide in the hotel pool.

The Comedians

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Comedians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Three men meet on a ship bound for Haiti, a world in the grip of the corrupt "Papa Doc" and the Tontons Macoute, his sinister secret police. Brown the hotelier, Smith the innocent American and Jones the confidence man are the "Comedians" of Graham Greene's title.

General Sun, My Brother

By Jacques Stephen Alexis, Carrol F. Coates (translator),

Book cover of General Sun, My Brother

Why this book?

The Haitian writer narrates this 1955 novel about the 1937 massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic via a laborer, Hilarion, who is thrown into prison for petty theft and politically awakened by a fellow inmate (a stand-in for the author). After he is released, he meets his love, Claire-Heureuse. Political upheaval sends them across the Dominican border, where he cuts cane then joins in a strike. When the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo orders an ethnic cleansing, Hilarion is mortally wounded as he tries to return to Haiti across the Massacre River along the northern border.

General Sun, My Brother

By Jacques Stephen Alexis, Carrol F. Coates (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked General Sun, My Brother as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An English translation of "Compere General Soleil", published in France in 1955. This novel depicts the nightmarish journey of a labourer and his wife from the slums of Port-au-Prince to the cane fields of the Dominican Republic, and personifies the sun as friend and leader of the workers.

The Kingdom of This World

By Alejo Carpentier, Pablo Medina (translator),

Book cover of The Kingdom of This World

Why this book?

The celebrated Cuban author employs the Latin American trope of magical realism in this novel of the Haitian Revolution that created the world’s first Black republic on New Year’s Day 1801. Through the eyes of the slave Ti Noël, readers meet some of the most celebrated figures of Haitian history: the legendary one-armed houngan (Vodou priest) Mackandal, the independence leader Boukman, and the first emperor of the North, Henri-Christophe. As a freedman, Ti Noël becomes disillusioned with the brutality under the new regime, including the conditions endured by workers building the Citadel fortress.

The Kingdom of This World

By Alejo Carpentier, Pablo Medina (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Kingdom of This World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Haiti, torture, and the Haitian Revolution?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Haiti, torture, and the Haitian Revolution.

Haiti Explore 32 books about Haiti
Torture Explore 28 books about torture
The Haitian Revolution Explore 9 books about the Haitian Revolution

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like A Gentleman in Moscow, A Theatre for Dreamers, and The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales if you like this list.