Amy Wilentz’s first trip to Haiti was as a reporter in February 1986, just as the repressive, 30-year Duvalier dynasty was coming to a turbulent end with the ouster of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. She’s been a frequent visitor and sometime resident of the tiny troubled nation ever since. Her new memoir, “Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti,” is a rich, engrossing chronicle of not just of her personal experiences there, but of the country’s unhappy history and its continuing struggle to rebuild three years after a deadly earthquake.
Wilentz recalls the Port-au-Prince of 1994, “a glittering, gorgeous warren of tin shacks and the tiny squared-off fretwork of shantytown after shantytown” draped over hillsides with the enormous white presidential palace of the Citadelle at its center. Grandiose and extravagant, it is the biggest colonial-era fortress in the Western Hemisphere, but Wilentz calls it a hollow symbol given Haiti’s long history of repression. The author places this conundrum at the heart of “Farewell, Fred Voodoo,” which is not just about Haiti, but about its relationship to the world, especially the United States. “Haiti is like a fifty-first state, a shadow state . . . hidden in the attic . . . that bears all the scars of the two countries’ torrid twinned narrative.”