By Juan Gonzalez. Verson books, London and NY, 1995.
ISBN # 0-86091-449-6
Some comments by Bob Corbett
Aug. 20, 1996
Some time last year I heard an NPR interview with Juan Gonzalez pumping his book ROLL DOWN YOUR WINDOW. It was mentioned that there were stories and reports from his visits to Haiti, so I went out and purchased the book. Somehow it got put aside and I just uncovered it and read it. It's a wonderful read, but has little of value on Haiti.
Gonzalez is a reporter for the New York Daily News. He writes human interest stories that concentrate on the down and out. He seems to have an incredible eye for the touching and illustrative in person stories and is constantly standing up for the dispossessed of society. His book ROLL DOWN YOUR WINDOW is a collection of his writing published in the Daily News in the last 10 years.
Nearly half the book focuses on tales from New York, then a section on Los Angeles during and after the riots of 1992. Gonzalez then moves on to Honduras, Mexico just before the NAFTA vote, which he vehemently opposed, and then to Haiti, with several visits between the coup of 1991 and the reinstatement of Aristide in 1994. The book ends with a short visit to Cuba.
The section on Haiti, just 21 pages, are among the most disappointing in this otherwise touching, well-written and provocative book. Typically in the other sites, Gonzalez interviews individuals of the underclass who have been wronged by big business or "the system." His stories not only move one's emotions, but challenge the way things are.
But most of his Haiti columns were simply news stories like any other reporter wrote. They are competent and accurate, but not special in the way that his other tales are. What finally tipped me on why this might be the case, was a human interest story on an American soldier who went to Haiti in 1994. Ah, it occurred to me -- he spoke English! Gonzalez, born in Puerto Rico and raised in the U.S., is quite comfortable in both English and Spanish, thus in all the other cities he visited for the columns in this book. But in Haiti he couldn't really get into people's homes in the simple down to earth way he does so well in the rest of the book, thus the Haitian section is disappointing. The couple of short tales he does report on are either in the Haitian section of Brooklyn, NY, or with Haitians whom he announces, "speak fluent English."
ROLL DOWN YOUR WINDOW is a powerful book and quite worth reading, but not to discover or learn anything about Haiti.
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