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Haiti Noir

These 18 gritty tales – edited by award-winning Haitian author Edwidge Danticat – offer unique perspectives on life in the struggling nation.

By Geoff Wisner / February 1, 2011

Haiti Noir Edited by Edwidge Danticat Akashic Books 310 pp.

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In 2004, the Brooklyn-based independent publisher Akashic Books released “Brooklyn Noir,” a collection of all-new crime stories, each set in a different neighborhood of the borough. “Brooklyn Noir” won readers and awards, and spawned “Brooklyn Noir 2: The Classics,” then “Chicago Noir,” “San Francisco Noir,” and “D.C. Noir.” “Dublin Noir” was the first book in the series to leave the borders of the US.

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Although crime-fiction stars like Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos have edited previous volumes in the series, with Haiti Noir Edwidge Danticat becomes the first of the series’s editors to have made her name as a mainstream literary author. (Coming up are “Lagos Noir” from Chris Abani and “New Jersey Noir” from Joyce Carole Oates.) Though best known as the author of melancholy, well-crafted works of fiction, Danticat is also the editor of the anthology “The Butterfly’s Way,” and three contributors to that book also appear in this one.

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Haiti has been the subject of more than its share of lurid narratives. In her introduction to “Haiti Noir,” Danticat discusses some of the “dark tales” that emerged from Haiti during the US Marine occupation of 1915-34. Books like “The Magic Island” by William Seabrook and “Voodoo Fire in Haiti” did their part to create a persistent image of Haiti as a land of zombies and cannibals.

By focusing on tales of crime and cruelty, “Haiti Noir” might be expected to generate more of the same. But Danticat maintains that if “mind-blowing and sometimes bone-chilling” stories are to be written about Haiti, they should be written by Haitians themselves. Of the 18 stories in this collection, all but two are written by Haitians, though many of them live in the diaspora. Madison Smartt Bell and Mark Kurlansky, white Americans with a deep knowledge of the country, are given the honor of inclusion.

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