ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The earthquake in Haiti destroyed homes, lives and left many people disabled. But one thing the earthquake didn't crush was the energy of Haiti's writers who've documented their country's efforts to rebuild.
Julia Alvarez is the author of "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents," and she's been paying attention to the work of Haitian writers, and she loved a new book from Edwidge Danticat. It's called "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist At Work."
JULIA ALVAREZ: Ever since an earthquake struck Haiti on January 12th, 2010, and the airwaves buzzed with reports of thousands upon thousands dead, ever since those scenes and faces and wailing voices, I have been searching for a guide through this devastation.
I Googled my favorite, trusted writers on Haiti. Madison Smartt Bell, Amy Wilentz, Mark Danner. But the writer I most wanted to hear from was the Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat.
I had read and reread her piece in The New Yorker, soon after the earthquake, where she told the story of her cousin Maxo, his son and some students who were being tutored, all buried under the rubble.
The piece was written in such heartbreaking, clear-eyed prose, with no trace of self-pity. Here, finally, is the book I've been searching for, the book I urge everyone to read about Haiti.
In 12 chapters, we enter into the heart of Haiti, not just the Haiti of the earthquake. We learn about Haiti's rich culture - no poverty there - and about its artists, its freedom fighters, its rascals.
We get to know Danticat, the writer, why she feels she must create dangerously, fearlessly. We visit with Tante Ilyana and with Maxo, who will not survive the earthquake, and with a photographer, Daniel Morel, who will.
We hear Maxo's favorite passage in Jean Genet's "Les Negres," a book Danticat will bring to where Maxo's body lies after the earthquake. Your song was very beautiful, and your sadness does me honor. Danticat quotes the Haitian novelist Dany Laferriere, whose fictional self responds to the question: Are you a Haitian writer?
Reading Danticat's book, we become Haitian. Our nation and our people lie under that rubble. But Haiti also rises from the ashes of all that has been lost in these heartening and heartrendingly beautiful pages.
SIEGEL: Julia Alvarez is a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College. She's the author of "How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents" and the recent "Return to Sender." She reviewed Edwidge Danticat's new book, "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.