Frances Temple
Orchard Books, New York, 1992. $14.95

Reviewed by Bob Corbett

Haitian folklore tells us that zombies are people whose souls have been stolen in magic. But a taste of salt can break the evil spell returning the person to his or her own right mind.

Pe Pierre, a priest working with Father Aristide, teaches street kids to read and write, using a text called GOUTE SEL -- A TASTE OF SALT. This salt is the power of the written word to lift the blinders of the spirit caused by years of exploitation and inhumane treatment.

Frances Temple's TASTE OF SALT: A STORY OF MODERN HAITI is a powerful and touching story of Djo Leguardien, a young man who lived in Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lafanmi Selavi, and Jeremie, a young woman who befriends Djo. Djo was seriously beaten in the macoutes attack on Selavi shortly before Aristide's inauguration, and languishes near death in the hospital. Aristide, now president of Haiti, sends the sensitive young Jeremie to tape record Djo's story.

Djo leads us through his life as a tiny child in Cite Soleil, his work shining shoes, to his becoming one of Aristide's boys. He is the sort of street kid that anyone whose ever visited Haiti sees each day. Djo's story continues into a batey in the Dominican Republic where he has been taken in slave labor. Finally we follow him back to Aristide's political party, and his days in the hospital.

Jeremie's story, written for the Djo she's falling in love with, is the tale of a young girl in school, living a life in the slums, but a distinct cut above that which Djo lived.

Temple's story sensitively captures the period. Not only do the lives of Djo and Jeremie touch all of the main events of the period, but she takes us inside the minds of the people. We walk with them as Aristide, their taste of salt, changes them from complacent status quoists, into responsible young adults, risking their lives for the future of Haiti. Temple has a profound understanding of the meaning of the Lavalas movement. The task now, Djo tells us, is to keep this hope alive.

I recommend this book highly. Anyone who wants to really understand the feelings, the journey, the enlightenment, the struggle, hope and temptations to despair, should read Temple's touching and well written book.


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu