Most people in Haiti live on less than two dollars a day. Hundreds of thousands have been living in tent cities without sanitation since a 2010 hurricane rattled the tiny island nation. Then, a cholera epidemic killed thousands more. They have lived under vicious dictators and political chaos. And yet, as bad as those things are, even worse, argues Amy Wilentz in her fierce history and polemic Farewell Fred Voodoo, are the confused attempts by Europeans and North Americans to “help” Haiti without taking the time or effort to understand it. (“Fred Voodoo” is a condescending term used by some foreign journalists for the Haitian “man on the street.”)
It would seem appropriate to read a book about Haiti outside in the hot blazing sun. To sweat in empathy with the poor, suffering Haitians. Instead, I lie in my cool, comfortable, air-conditioned room with an ice cold Diet Coke. Why? Because I can. And, because Wilentz points out, that sweat would mean nothing.