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Reviewed by Bob Corbett

The announcement of a 388 page reference book on Haiti had excited me. Few books of this sort have ever been printed, and we could certainly use a current one. The most notable book of this sort is the 1977 book by Ronald Perusse, HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF HAITI. But this book is not only out of print, but virtually impossible to find. It is one of the few English languages book on Haiti that I have yet to find for my own library.

Alas, the new reference book is a major disappointment. While some of the basic geographic information is useful, the rest of the book provides skimpy and even inaccurate information.

The book starts out strong, providing accurate and useful information on the geography and political divisions of the country. It is interesting that the question of Navassa Island is settled by fiat. It is simply listed as a possession of Haiti, even though it has been occupied by the United States for generations.

Next comes a 33 pages section of historical highlights of the island of Hispaniola from Columbus' arrival to the present. Tacked on to this are brief portraits of Toussaint Louverture and the first three presidents of Haiti.

A very useful 45 page section follows which lists and describes important writers of Haiti, though it is astonishing in some of its oversights, especially the lack of mention of Phillips Thoby-Marcelin and Pierre Marcelin, arguably the most important novelists of the 1940s, along with Jacques Roumaine. There is also a long list of famous Haitian artists.

A 55 page section of Creole expressions and English/Creole vocabulary would have been useful, but they have virtually destroyed the usefulness of this section by using the old fashion "frenchified" spellings of Creole rather than the current phonetic spelling. This is one of the major flaws of the book.

Next follows a section on government and a complete reprinting of the Haitian Constitution of March 29, 1987 in English. This is followed later in the appendixes with a French version of the constitution as well.

Perhaps the most hilarious and unsatisfactory section of the handbook is the bibliography. First there is a French section which includes most well-know works. But the long English bibliography is so woefully inadequate that it is simply funny. To illustrate this at it most startling, there is a section on Haitian Voodoo in which three books are cited. Works by Katherine Dunham, Francis Huxley and Zora Hurston. Absent are the standard works of Metreaux, Deren, Rigaud, Courlander and many other scholars.

It is too bad that this book offers such slim pickings for those of us starved for a good single reference book on Haiti. But, I hope to have gotten this review out to you before you invested the $26.00 that I invested in a book which I will rarely have any cause to use.


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu