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Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haitiby Amy Wilentz
Synopses & Reviews
The Rainy Season, Amy Wilentz's award-winning 1989 portrait of Haiti after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, was praised in the New York Times Book Review as “a remarkable account of a journalists transformation by her subject.” In her relationship with the country since then, Wilentz has witnessed more than one magical transformation. Now, with Farewell, Fred Voodoo, she gives us a vivid portrayal of the extraordinary people living in this stark place.
Wilentz traces the country's history from its slave plantations through its turbulent revolutionary history, its kick-up-the-dirt guerrilla movements, its totalitarian dynasty that ruled for decades, and its long and always troubled relationship with the United States. Yet through a history of hardship shines Haiti's creative culture — its African traditions, its French inheritance, and its uncanny resilience, a strength that is often confused with resignation.
Haiti emerged from the dust of the 2010 earthquake like a powerful spirit, and this stunning book describes the country's day-to-day struggle and its relationship to outsiders who come to help out. There are human-rights reporters gone awry, movie stars turned aid workers, priests and musicians running for president, doctors turned diplomats. A former U.S. president works as a house builder and voodoo priests try to control elections.
A foreign correspondent on a simple story becomes, over time and in the pages of this book, a lover of Haiti, pursuing the essence of this beautiful and confounding land into its darkest and brightest corners. Farewell, Fred Voodoo is a spiritual journey into the heart of the human soul, and Haiti has found in Amy Wilentz an author of astonishing wit, sympathy, and eloquence.
"In this bracing memoir, Wilentz (The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier) revisits Haiti, as she describes a complex nation, following the cataclysmic 2010 earthquake. The world's first black republic is neither French nor completely Caribbean nor a protectorate of the United States, but rather, Wilentz writes, something akin to French West Africa. Readers get a stimulating immersion course in Haiti's culture, history, and political machinations. She introduces a fantastical cast of characters who inhabit the many layers of Haitian society and those individuals who flocked to the island following the earthquake, burdened with motives ranging from the base self-promotion or redemption of sundry celebrities such as Kim Kardashian or Charlie Sheen to those who came to help such as Doctor Coffee, whom Wilentz calls 'an all-purpose medical phenomenon.' Though many pontificate on the country's unrelenting despair, poverty, and corruption, Wilentz's remarkable narrative strives to alter these perceptions. She writes, 'But in fact, this depression and hopelessness come from experts who don't understand Haiti, don't acknowledge its strengths (and don't know them), don't get its culture or are philosophically opposed to what they assume its culture is, and don't know its history in any meaningful way.' An unsentimental yet heartfelt journey to a country possessing the power to baffle some, yet beguile others." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A veteran journalist captures the functioning chaos of Haiti....An extraordinarily frank cultural study/memoir that eschews platitudes of both tragedy and hope." Los Angeles Times
“Farewell, Fred Voodoo showcases all [Wilentz’s] formidable gifts as a reporter: her love of, and intimate familiarity with, Haiti; her sense of historical perspective; and her eye for the revealing detail. Like Joan Didion and V. S. Naipaul, she has an ability not only to provide a visceral, physical feel for a place, but also to communicate an existential sense of what it’s like to be there as a journalist with a very specific and sometimes highly subjective relationship with her subject.” Michiko Kakutani
“Excellent and illuminating...a love letter to — and a lament for — Haiti, a country with an already strange and tortured history that became even more tragic, interesting and convoluted in the months after the earthquake....[Wilentz] brings to Haiti empathy and her great skills as a narrator...it's Wilentz's honesty about her own role in Haiti and that of so many other American visitors to that country that ultimately distinguishes her book most from other works that cover similar terrain.” Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, The New York Times Book Review
“Excellent….Wilentz matches [Joan Didion] for note-perfect prose and unflinching inquiry…. Wilentz is an artful guide…. [An] intimate, honest, bracingly unsentimental book.” The New York Times
“Farewell, Fred Voodoo is engrossing and gorgeous and funny, a meticulously reported story of love for a maddening place. Wilentz’s writing is so lyrical it’s like hearing a song — in this case, the magical, confounding, sad song of Haiti.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Farewell, Fred Voodoo is written with authority and great affection for Haiti and Haitians and for those who are trying to help them. An informative and wonderful piece of writing, it is a work of considerable artistry, immensely evocative. I read it with pleasure and with mounting gratitude.” Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief and Rin Tin Tin
“Amy Wilentz is a brilliant writer, an ace journalist and, perhaps most important, she is not an outsider. She's the perfect guide through the heartbreak and beauty of post-earthquake Haiti. I was gripped by her respectful and first-hand reporting on Voodoo, and impressed by her enormous sensitivity to the crushing deprivation most Haitians endure.” Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains
“Amy Wilentz knows Haiti deeply: its language, its tragic history, the foibles of her fellow Americans who often miss the story there. This makes her a wise, wry, indispensable guide to a country whose fate has long been so interwoven with our own.” Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
“I can't imagine there's a better book about Haiti — a smarter, more thoughtful, tough-minded, romantic, plainspoken, intimate, well-reported book. Amy Wilentz has paid exceptionally close attention to this dreamy, nightmarish place for a quarter century, and with Farewell, Fred Voodoo she turns all that careful watching and thinking into a riveting work of nonfiction literature.” Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost
“With great storytelling and a wry sense of human comedy, Amy Wilentz explains Haiti — its characters, its romance, and its unique place in world history — and brings it all to life with passion.” Kurt Andersen, author of Heyday and True Believers
A brilliant writer’s account of a long, painful, ecstatic — and unreciprocated — affair with a country that has long fascinated the world.
It was no surprise to Amy Wilentz when Haiti emerged from the dust of the 2010 earthquake like a powerful spirit. Her book is about magical transformations. It is filled with raucous characters: human-rights reporters gone awry, movie stars turned into aid workers, musicians running for president, doctors turned into diplomats, a former U.S. president working as a house builder, street boys morphing into rock stars, and voodoo priests running elections.
Wilentz looks back and forward at the country: at its slave plantations, its unthinkable revolutionary history, its kick-up-the-dirt guerrilla movements, its troubled relationship to the U.S., the totalitarian dynasty that ruled for decades, as well as its creative culture, its ancient African traditions and attitudes, and its uncanny resilience.
Like Joan Didion’s Salvador and Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between, this book vividly portrays the people of a stark place. A foreign correspondent on a simple story becomes, over time and in the pages of this book, a lover of this country, pursuing the heart and soul of this beautiful and confounding place into the darkest and brightest corners.
About the Author
Amy Wilentz is the author of The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier, of Martyrs' Crossing, (a novel) and of I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger. She has won the Whiting Writers Award, the PEN Martha Albrand Non-Fiction Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award; in 1990, she was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She writes for The New Yorker and The Nation and teaches in the Literary Journalism program at U.C. Irvine.
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