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Fault Lines: Views across Haiti’s Divide by Beverly Bell (review)

From: Journal of Haitian Studies
Volume 19, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 208-211 | 10.1353/jhs.2013.0029

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Haiti’s 2010 earthquake has inspired at least two dozen books in English so far. Charles Forsdick has published an excellent review of this now crowded field.1 Four years after the earthquake, particularly after another season of mega-disasters that included Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines, Haiti fatigue has set in. It is no longer enough to publish on Haiti, or even the earthquake. Scholarship has to contribute more broadly relevant ideas, and ideally should contribute to the construction of new narratives, as Gina Athena Ulysse implores us to do.2

When the rubble clears, Beverly Bell’s Fault Lines will remain an essential text, a useful archive of the many “ordinary” and quite extraordinary Haitian people and their youn-ede-lòt (helping one another), their activism, and their visions for a better Haiti. As Edwidge Danticat concludes in her foreword:

There is rarely a representative of grassroots urban or rural sectors in the international commissions and panels that will decide the future of the country. In this book, thankfully they too are heard, not as victims or beggars, but as self-reliant and proud men and women who are the backbone of Haiti, and without whose full inclusion and participation the country will never fully succeed.

(xiii)

Bell’s conversations with hundreds of such grassroots activists in the earthquake’s immediate aftermath constitute the strength and major contribution of Fault Lines. Bell, a solidarity activist whose work in Haiti began in the 1980s, had a unique ability—and responsibility—to write this book. The stories were first published on scores of blogs, including the Other Worlds website, and were reposted on sites like Huffington Post. Some of the most widely circulated missives include a discussion of gender-based violence, “Our Bodies Are Shaking Now” (Chapter 11), and a roadmap of grassroots alternatives, “The Ones Who Must Decide” (Chapter 10). The text comes alive with the immediacy of the moment, with the sound of birds chirping, people cracking jokes, or a pick-up game of soccer as background to the urgency in people’s stories and the poignancy of their analyses. The pieces are short, which also makes them easily accessible to students and lay readers.

A risk of compiling such in-the-moment prose texts is that they might not work well together, since the pieces were taken from their diverse initial contexts for assembly as a book. But Fault Lines is carefully edited and crafted, offering several meticulously researched chapters on Haitian history. It includes, like Bell’s earlier book Walking on Fire, the resistance of the maroon communities (Chapter 4) and a chapter on the women’s movement (Chapter 5). Bell uses this discussion of history to offer readers the interpretive frames necessary for her discussion of the earthquake and its aftermath. Chapter 9 is a solid analysis of the ways in which foreign aid deepened Haiti’s dependency and increased Haiti’s vulnerability to disaster. After this historical and theoretical background, Fault Lines adopts a largely chronological narrative arc, chronicling the various struggles for justice on the part of grassroots movements. The book’s narrative ends a year after the quake, so readers only glimpse the process of holding elections in the time of cholera.

In Fault Lines, Haitian grassroots activists offer their analysis of both the structural and circumstantial dimensions of Haiti’s situation. They are speaking to Bell, but their messages are directed towards a world audience. Their proposals for justice, inclusion, fairness, equality, and participation are lucid and simple to grasp. Bell uses her own voice to make suggestions about engaging in solidarity, such as “Support what Haitians are doing instead of starting your own initiative” and “At every step, promote mechanisms and opportunities for Haitians themselves—especially those whose voices go unheard and needs go unmet—to take the lead” (109–11). These deceptively simple principles of solidarity are unfortunately rare in the republic of NGOs, an easy flight away for many a mission group. These principles are also unusual in the book in that they come from Bell’s own words, and not from grassroots activists.

In the interstices of the text, the reader glimpses Haitian life. The reader...


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