In some respects "The Eye in the Door" was every bit as good as "Regeneration". Its portrayal of war-time society and the mores of the time felt authe...moreIn some respects "The Eye in the Door" was every bit as good as "Regeneration". Its portrayal of war-time society and the mores of the time felt authentic, and the writing itself is fabulous. However, I missed the dynamic of the other characters that had been developed in "Regeneration". Even though the portrayal of the psychologically complex and amoral Billy Prior was brilliantly done and a fitting vehicle to capture the charged hypocrisy/self-denial of the times, the continuing juxtaposition of his character with the others from "Regeneration" had been one of the things I was looking forward to. Onwards to Regeneration, #3...(less)
Since finishing this book early this afternoon, I've had waves of grief come over me at odd intervals. My knee-jerk rating of 'The Ghost Road' is four...moreSince finishing this book early this afternoon, I've had waves of grief come over me at odd intervals. My knee-jerk rating of 'The Ghost Road' is four stars, but that is simply within the context of the series itself. I don't have much patience for flashbacks in general, and much of 'The Ghost Road' is full of them. I still missed the characters that I got to know in Regeneration #1, but it was still fantastic and deeply moving. Five stars to the Regeneration series, without reservation. (less)
The longer I sit after reading this book, the more inclined I am to give it five stars. "Farewell, Fred Voodoo" is not perfectly written, organized, o...moreThe longer I sit after reading this book, the more inclined I am to give it five stars. "Farewell, Fred Voodoo" is not perfectly written, organized, or executed, and the author Amy Wilentz is inclined to be harsh and judgmental towards those she disapproves of. Still, it resonated with me, and since this is a subjective rating system, I'll do just that. Interpreted as fictional literature might be, "Farewell, Fred Voodoo" is a book about human imperfection on a global scale, so it fits that it's not a perfect work itself. Caustic, opinionated, romantic (in a Rimbaud-ian sort of way) , and sparing no one, including herself, Amy Wilentz' portrait of post-earthquake Haiti is a call for self-examination from all those who would give foreign aid in any capacity and romanticize the developing world.
Why are we well-heeled "first world" white people drawn to developing countries? Me ten years ago, as I prepared to fly off to Kyrgyzstan as part of the Peace Corps, would have told you that I felt like I had something to give back to the world from having been so lucky to have so much. In reality, it was probably a hazy mixture of first world guilt, a sense of adventure, and a want to escape my problems. Neither is "giving back" or "helping" a developing country as simple as a 21 year old college graduate might see it.
As Amy Wilentz points out, in a post-colonial world, the very concept of foreign aid and how a person from a developed country relates to those from developing ones is charged. Coming from the "first world", it's hard to get out of the paradigm of paternalism and romanticism that surrounds any concept of "helping a developing country". While there are a few who can do it well, immersing themselves in their adopted community, learning the language, loving the culture, and teaching or contributing viable skills that will help the community long after they're gone, most of us are clueless and out of touch with the places we go to serve. As my K-12 host country national Peace Corps trainer Akylbek taught me in a very vivid and memorable way using the emerald colored glasses of the Emerald City of Oz as an example, your culture serves as the green colored glasses that you never take off. When you go to a different country, you might put on a different colored pair of glasses, but you will still have the green ones on underneath.
Amy Wilentz thoroughly explores this paradox, especially applies to herself. Her view of Haiti, a country she professes to love, is simultaneously romantic and cynical. She realizes that there are some boundaries that she as a white person from the USA will never escape in the eyes of Haitians. After visiting and living in Haiti off and on for over a decade, she is not quite an outsider, but definitely not an insider either. Hanging out with some Haitians one night early in her career, she gets dewey-eyed and says to them "I love Haiti!". "Then why don't you give me your passport and keys to your house" one of the Haitians quips. Wilentz wants to be the exception, but knows better. She has no qualms about ripping herself and her relationship to the country apart, and she applies this same standard of examination to everyone from Haitian government officials to foreigners who came to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. As well she should, as the aid that was given has done very little to actually help the Haitian people.
Is all foreign aid misguided? Is there actually anything we can do to help rebuild a country? No doubt good medical help and assistance in removing debris after such a disaster is needed, but when you move on from there and try to rebuild the infrastructure of a community that's not your own, is that going to far? Does it remove the much needed sense of autonomy that a country needs if it is going to pick itself up by its bootstraps and shape its own vision of the future? Yes and yes. What should one do, then, if a country can't get its shit together? In the end, it seem to me like watching a good friend of yours who is a wreck. Sure, you can see all too clearly the things that they could do to help themselves, but you can't do it for them, and you have to be ok if they don't take your advice. You can be there to support them when it looks like they're taking some steps in the right direction, but otherwise they are probably served best by figuring it out themselves. But then, what do I know? (less)