Shortly after the Haitian earthquake, evangelical Christian and historical revisionist Pat Roberson connected the devastation to what he perceived to be historical Haitian sins. “[Haitians] got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.’ True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’”
God Loves Haiti is, in part, Dimitry Elias Léger’s response to the insinuation that his birth country somehow earned their 2010 devastation. Partly told from the perspective of the adulterous President’s wife, it’s a passionate love story on multiple levels, as the main characters discuss their love for one another, love for God, and love for their country. When I say love, I don’t always mean it in the romantic sense; at times the love Léger speaks of is obligatory, reluctant or biblical. From the characters’ perspective, sometimes Haiti isn’t the easiest country to love. Fraught with political and economic issues from its inception, the simple minded might, as Roberson says, think the country was divinely cursed. But those are just the simple minded ones.
The earthquake was the latest sign that God loves Haiti…. He loves you. Of course God loves Haitians…. Why else, dear child, would God make our life so hard yet so sweet on an island so beautiful yet so, so fragile. Think about it: The moral of most stories in the Bible is that God’s chosen people, Adam, Eve, Abraham, the whole lot, will constantly be asked by Him to make the greatest personal sacrifices possible to honor His mysterious glory. The way we Haitians suffered misfortune, deprivation, and disproportional foreign enmity is right in line with that of chosen peoples throughout history. Biblically speaking anyway, God may love us too much.
This is where Léger excels, where a non-Haitian author might not: capturing depth of Haitian pain, but also the depth of Haitian religiousness and hopefulness.
How did an earthquake kill so many people? How many ways can one experience the same event? In lieu of names and faces, Léger gives circumstances to many of the earthquake’s hundreds of thousands of casualties. On the peripheries of his love story are the hoards of people lost in the rubble of the main market; children spared from their collapsing home by running to meet their papa returning from work; Presidential cabinet members lost in crumbled National Palace.
With a blunt honesty that oftentimes hurt to read, Léger describes these post-earthquake scenes in ways that make you wonder if he lived each situation himself:
Children of all sizes cried and whimpered all over the place, like a chorus, from pains that were too hard to look at and too painful for everyone, including the stunned parents and guardians, to keep a brave face in front of. Arms aloft, these parents offered the children to the doctors with the separation of people making offerings to gods.
– Page 131
God Loves Haiti truly made me feel like I was experiencing the earthquake along with the Haitian people. That’s no small feat. However, the romantic element of the story was perhaps the weakest part. I found that I cared little for Natasha, The President, and Alain’s triangle, because it was clear that she wasn’t a great match for either man. Without spoiling the book, let me say that I was lukewarm about each of the main characters until a mere two pages of epilogue roped me back in.
Epilogues ruin books more often than authors would like to admit. At the very least, they sometimes seem like a rushed dose of Happily Ever After. For God Loves Haiti, it resolved many of my problems with the main characters, albeit far too late in the book. I almost wish I had read the whole book with the perspective in the epilogue.
On a five star scale, I’d give God Loves Haiti a solid 3.5. I might even be talked into giving it 4 stars. Its far above average—the author’s ability to detail the earthquake from so many different perspectives was impressive– but I wanted so much more from Natasha and Alain.