Amy Wilentz is the author of “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier,” and “Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti,” which won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for memoir.
The Caribbean is a place of strange allure. Most Americans and Europeans think of it today as a collection of pristine beaches, sprawling resorts, palm trees, coconuts, rum drinks, pliant hotel staffs, gorgeous coral reefs, snorkels and tans. But as historians and Caribbean specialists know, this vision of the island basin is sanitized, diluted and abridged.
The real West Indies, as Joshua Jelly-Schapiro shows us in his new book, is — or was, at least — violent, harsh, and full of struggle and pain.
This is the place where globalization began. From the moment the ignorant but rapacious white man “discovered” the Caribbean, he began transforming it into a place where races mixed and where entire peoples were eradicated on the one hand, while, on the other, a new type of person with an intercontinental gene pool and complicated cultural backgrounds and connections was generated.