The brand-new website, Shepherd, asked me to share some recommendations related to my first book, Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola.
I was intrigued by the story of the book-loving founder, Ben Fox, who launched the site in April 2022 after deciding there HAD to be a better way to find books than relying on algorithms. So he started reaching out to authors for their recommendations.
Below are five novels that together give a good overview of the Haiti, with a particular focus on the mid-twentieth century onward. I prioritized books that either were written in English or had excellent translation. I also chose books that can be easily found, because who wants to be intrigued by a book and then frustrated that they can’t buy or borrow it? Unfortunately, that knocked several worthy candidates off of the list.
So, without further ado, here is my annotated list of the 5 best novels for understanding Haiti.
Also check out my list of the 5 best novels for understanding the Dominican Republic.
The author of “IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES” and other beloved novels recommends WHY THE COCKS FIGHT: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola, alongside other classic works on the Dominican Republic and Haiti, in The New York Times‘ “By the Books” column April 11, 2019:
What books would you recommend to somebody who wants to learn more about the Dominican Republic?
I always find novels a great way to understand the character, not just the content, of a culture. Dominican-American novelists who write about the island, not just the immigration experience: Junot Díaz, Nelly Rosario, Angie Cruz. Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The Feast of the Goat” owes much to the riveting nonfiction account by Bernard Diederich, “Trujillo: The Death of the Goat.” Crassweller’s “Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator.” But how can we write about the Dominican Republic and not include Haiti? We are one island, after all, sharing a history of occupation, appropriation, slavery, dictatorship and more. Michele Wucker’s “Why the Cocks Fight” is a compact history of both countries and their relationship. I also admire Madison Smartt Bell’s “Haitian Revolution” trilogy, and “The Farming of Bones,” by one of my favorite writers, the Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat. Ditto for how can we write about Hispaniola and not include most of the southern American hemisphere, and for that, the incomparable Eduardo Galeano’s books, most saliently “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” in which Haiti and the Dominican Republic figure frequently.
Michele Wucker spoke at Bronx Community College December 4, 2018 in a “Meet the Author” event with students and faculty. Bronx Community College reported on the event HERE.
Michele’s first book, WHY THE COCKS FIGHT: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola is a 2018 Bronx Community College One Book, One College, One Community selection. The One Book program invites the entire campus to read one book and join together in events and projects exploring and celebrating the themes of the work.
BCC chose WHY THE COCKS FIGHT “because of the many opportunities it provides to examine the complexities of citizenship and race, imperialism and identity, which have particular relevance in today’s global political climate.”
BCC created a study guide for the book. This year’s events included an essay contest whose winners were announced at the December 4th event, a workshop and musical performance with Yasser Tejeda and Palotré, and an art project in which students designed alternative versions of the book cover.
BuzzFeed reporter Emily Tamkin interviewed Michele Wucker and quoted her in Trump Wants To Cancel Birthright Citizenship. The US Has Already Helped One Country Do That, a November 12, 2018 article about the Dominican Republic’s stripping of citizenship to Dominicans of Haitian descent.
Donald Trump’s plan to end birthright citizenship by executive order was immediately denounced by legal scholars as an illegal intrusion on the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. But the United States knows something about ending birthright citizenship because it played an active role in helping another country bring it to a close — the Dominican Republic.
That role, which was unfolding before Trump became president, has long been the subject of criticism — from the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and former Peace Corps volunteers who served in Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. Trump’s criticism of birthright citizenship and call for a wall on the US–Mexico border have renewed concerns that the US is inflaming the Dominican Republic’s already hostile xenophobic attitudes toward its Haitian minority.
“US human rights organizations were very vocal against the court ruling in 2013, and were very vocal in documenting some of the problems, particularly as it came into force in 2015,” Michele Wucker, author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola, said.
Read the whole article on Buzzfeed.
The Dominican Republic, as it did nearly 80 years ago when offering Jewish refugees visas after the dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered an ethnic cleansing at the Haitian border, is trying to polish its international reputation after carrying out human rights violations condemned around the world. This time, it still has a chance to do the right thing by changing its policies on deportation and denationalization. My thoughts in Foreign Policy on October 8, 2015, about the country’s attempt to gloss over 11 counts of violations of the commitments it made under the American Convention on Human Rights, on which it has reneged and on what it could do to make things right (and make its public relations consultants’ job easier).
Sam Koebrich from cfr.org recently interviewed me about the expulsions to Haiti by the Dominican Republic of Dominicans of Haitian descent and recent migrants. “Deportations in the Dominican Republic,” August 13, 2015. Several people have noted that my approach to the issues avoid hyperbole and focus on constructive suggestions.
Acento republished the interview in Spanish in the Dominican Republic, prompting a series of tweets and posts to my public Facebook page from Dominicans who refuse to accept any criticism. At least one was outraged by the supposed international plot for “fusion” of the two countries sharing the island of Hispaniola -you know, the same plot that exists only in the mind of Dominican ultra-nationalists. But I don’t mind. They at least spelled my name right.
In the latest chapter in a long and complicated history of tensions with neighboring Haiti, the Dominican Republic is poised to deport recent Haitian migrants and expel Dominicans of Haitian descent who have not been able to prove that they were born there. This week, the deadline to apply for “regularization” passed, with many people saying they applied but have not been given proof, and many others having been rejected or having been unable to get past bureaucratic chaos.
National Public Radio’s Audie Cornish interviewed me June 17th, 2015, on All Things Considered about the history of tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the subject of my first book, WHY THE COCKS FIGHT: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola. You can listen to the interview and read the transcript HERE.
For additional information about the history of the two countries and current efforts by Dominicans and Haitians to overcome the past, please visit www.borderoflights.org.
I highly recommend Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones, a novel about the 1937 massacre, and Julia Alvarez’s A Wedding in Haiti, a contemporary and nuanced account of relationships among Dominicans and Haitians.
An April 15, 2010 of Newsweek article by Jeneen Interlandi, “Enemies: A Love Story,” quotes me about the positive changes in the relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti since the January earthquake.
“We’ve had zero reports of violent attacks since the quake,” says Michele Wucker, executive director of the World Policy Institute and author of Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola. Dominican officials have also been instrumental in helping international aid groups access their earthquake-ravaged neighbor, Wucker says.
Follow this link to read the whole article. The article is available in French at nouvelobs.com as “Comment Haïti et la République Dominicaine ont fait la paix.”