Julia Alvarez has always seemed quite comfortable with reality. Even in her other books, filled with the stories of intertwining relationships between people and the government, there is the sense, the hope, that someday things will work out. Torture and corruption may be on the menu today, but tomorrow it could be filled with cooperation and strength. A WEDDING IN HAITI is a memoir, but it follows the same trajectory; even amidst the rubble of destruction, there is a chance for redemption and rebuilding.
"No one will walk away from this book without having had a compelling and memorable trip to the brink of death and back, a journey actually made fascinating by the beautiful language and open heart of Julia Alvarez, one of the world’s great novelists."
When Alvarez and her husband first bought and then built up a larger coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic, from where the novelist hails, they had no clue that one worker on their land would turn out to be the reason they experience the adventures put forth in this remarkable memoir. A young man named Piti is a great help on the farm and is filled with a joy of life that compels everyone around him to love him. At some point, so taken is he with Alvarez and her husband that he tells her he will be expecting them at his wedding someday. She puts it out of her head until one day, back in Middlebury, Vermont, where the couple lives most of the year, she receives a call from Piti, claiming that his wedding has been arranged and she and her husband should come down for it.
Alvarez takes him up on it and finds herself, days later, taking a nine-hour trek through the Dominican Republic to Haiti to experience Piti’s big day. He also asks them to be the godparents to his four-month-old daughter, a stunner named Ludy. It is love at first sight, but the rough tides in Haiti sweep them into strange and exotic and often frighteningly sad situations. Piti’s relatives take good care of their visitors, and years later, when the earthquake strikes in January 2010, Alvarez once again becomes enmeshed in the lives of her friends in Haiti.
Their families okay because they lived so far from the epicenter, Piti and Eseline draw Alvarez into a detour to Port-au-Prince, where the devastation is experienced firsthand. She fills her story with the amazing resolve and strength of the survivors there as well as pictures of the before-and-after days of the island. And, as Haiti continues to rebuild and redefine its life in so many ways, Alvarez uses it as a way to also examine the experiences of her aging parents, both suffering from Alzheimer’s, struggling in and out of the waves of lucidity like tumultuous waves of the Haitian seaside.
A heartfelt and pointed look at a world where good and bad are constantly in a lock for the title, A WEDDING IN HAITI is so much more than a love story. Still, that love story --- the one between life and death, between hope and giving up --- is the soul of Alvarez’s life experiences. No one will walk away from this book without having had a compelling and memorable trip to the brink of death and back, a journey actually made fascinating by the beautiful language and open heart of Julia Alvarez, one of the world’s great novelists.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on May 17, 2012