Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
Normally I schedule my Imprint Friday posts to coincide with the book's release date. Today is an exception. Julia Alvarez's A Wedding in Haiti is available for preorder but will not be on bookstore shelves until April. Why the early introduction? I was so taken with this account of Alvarez's travels to Haiti that I just didn't want to wait.
Take a look at the publisher's summary:
Julia Alvarez has been called "a one-woman cultural collision" by the Los Angeles Times Book Review, and that has never been truer than in this story about three of her most personal relationships—with her parents, with her husband, and with a young Haitian boy known as Piti. A teenager when Julia and her husband, Bill, first met him in 2001, Piti crossed the border into the Dominican Republic to find work. Julia, impressed by his courage, charmed by his smile, has over the years come to think of him as a son, even promising to be at his wedding someday. When Piti calls in 2009, Julia’s promise is tested.A Wedding in Haiti is, as the book summary says, the story of how Alvarez's chance meeting with a Keryòl-speaking Haitian teen turned into a true friendship, which eventually led to two trips across the often difficult border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. To tell this story, however, Alvarez must also tell us how she and her husband came to own a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic and that tale, in turn, requires a bit of the author's personal background and a glimpse into her family life.
To Alvarez, much admired for her ability to lead readers deep inside her native Dominican culture, "Haiti is like a sister I’ve never gotten to know." And so we follow her across the border into what was once the richest of all the French colonies and now teeters on the edge of the abyss—first for the celebration of a wedding and a year later to find Piti’s loved ones in the devastation of the earthquake. As in all of Alvarez’s books, a strong message is packed inside an intimate, beguiling story, this time about the nature of poverty and of wealth, of human love and of human frailty, of history and of the way we live now.
So what kind of book is A Wedding in Haiti? It's a mix of travelogue, memoir, meditations on tragedy and happiness, and musings about how life takes us to unexpected places if we let it. Alvarez's conversational style softens her deep convictions about the human condition, and the impact of her writing is subtle and sometimes surprising.
There are people who do good work and then write about it to ask for our help or to extoll their own virtues. Then there is Julia Alvarez, who unselfconsciously does the right thing and then simply, guilelessly shares her story.
I'll leave you with a quote.
There is a Keryòl saying, God's pencil has no eraser. I've always understood the saying to mean that God doesn't need to erase. He makes no mistakes; his creation is perfect. But I now understand that saying in a more fatalistic way. There is no erasing or escaping the relentless march of events. And when that march tramples your loved ones or plays havoc in your part of the world (whether Haiti, Chile, New Zealand, Japan, or our own USA), you do what you have to do: you mourn, you bury your dead, you get up the next day and cook for the ones who are left, braid hair, sing songs, tell stories. Somehow you get through. As for the rest of us, we look, we listen, we try to help—even when it seems there is nothing we can do.Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.
The one thing we cannot do is turn away. For our humanity also does not have the eraser option. When we have seen a thing, we have an obligation. To see and to allow ourselves to be transformed by what we have seen. (p. 280)