restricted access A Wedding in Haiti: The Story of a Friendship by Julia Álvarez (review)
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Reviewed by
Julia Álvarez. 2012. A Wedding in Haiti: The Story of a Friendship. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 287pp. ISBN 978-1616201302 (hardcover).

A Wedding in Haiti, a travelogue/“US-moire”1 is as much about Julia Álvarez, the Dominican American writer and her family as it is about her young Haitian friend, Piti, and his family in pre- and post-earthquake Haiti. As she says in the opening pages about the narrative that follows, the opportunity to travel to Haiti allowed her to discover her “neighbor country who was and still is ‘the sister [she] hardly knew’” (n.p.). The ensuing pages take the reader through the sometimes difficult and painful, often times funny, always revealing and poignant process of Álvarez getting to know and embrace her estranged sibling.

The text is comprised of a series of vignettes, perhaps taken from her journal entries during her travels that detail she and her husband, Bill’s journey from Vermont where they live to Santiago, Dominican Republic where her parents who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease live, to a town outside of Bassin Bleu in Haiti where Piti and Eseline, his fiancé, with their baby girl, Loude Sendjika, nicknamed Ludy by Álvarez, in attendance, are to be married. The reader learns that they make the journey because several years before (“circa 2001” (p.3)), Álvarez made a promise to the young man whom she and Bill had met and befriended when he was just a boy and who worked for them at the time, that when he got married she would attend the wedding. Several years later in 2009 Piti calls her home in Vermont from Haiti to invite her to his marriage ceremony.

Although the narrative is linear there is a striking and persistent tension that varies between a push and pull, backward and forward movement, paralleling or doubling throughout the text. Álvarez sets up this tension from the beginning when she calls Haiti the sister she never knew. She continues in different ways at different times both in the content and the form of the text to reinforce, but also trouble the sense of familial connection between not just the countries but their inhabitants. For example, the narrative swings between stories of her parents’ younger lives together and their current state of mental and physical decay (pp. 18–25), there are short history lessons about the complex relationship between Haiti and the D.R. sprinkled throughout the text, upon her return to the D.R. she compares the dark-skinned [End Page 248] people (perhaps Haitians, she wonders) doing the hard work in the back of a cassava bread-making operation to the lighter skinned workers up front (p. 124). These are just a few examples. There is also the haunting sense that the author is marking a “time before” and a “time after” in the book’s form. This is achieved partly through the division of the book into two sections that are marked by a seemingly hand-drawn map of Haiti and the D.R. that span two pages, complete with the route and stops that Álvarez and her fellow travelers made during their first journey across the border pre-earthquake and the route they take during their second trip post-earthquake. The arrows that point out different spots on the map actually look penciled in, enhancing the intimate feel of the text.

The work is painfully honest, perhaps exposing the author to criticism. For example, when she relates Bill’s comment that the passengers traveling with them are not going to protest the decision of the guy who is giving them a ride home, the reader may read into the remark evidence of all-too-familiar trope of the white male exerting his power over the indebted subaltern. While this may, indeed, be a valid reading of his words, his words and actions before and after that moment reveal a human being with his own foibles, fears and ego who goes above and beyond to protect those whom he obviously considers part of his family. This is made most clear when he insists on visiting Port-au-Prince after the...