Interstate

In the author’s first novel since Frog, a Finalist for the National Book Award, a father mentally replays, in eight variations, the shooting of his daughters on an interstate highway.

Krik? Krak!

Arriving one year after the Haitian-American’s first novel (Breath, Eyes, Memory) alerted critics to her compelling voice, these 10 stories, some of which have appeared in small literary journals, confirm Danticat’s reputation as a remarkably gifted writer. Examining the lives of ordinary Haitians, particularly those struggling to survive under the brutal Duvalier regime, Danticat illuminates the distance between people’s desires and the stifling reality of their lives. A profound mix of Catholicism and voodoo spirituality informs the tales, bestowing a mythic importance on people described in the opening story, “Children of the Sea,” as those “in this world whose names don’t matter to anyone but themselves.” The ceaseless grip of dictatorship often leads men to emotionally abandon their families, like the husband in “A Wall of Fire Rising,” who dreams of escaping in a neighbor’s hot-air balloon. The women exhibit more resilience, largely because of their insistence on finding meaning and solidarity through storytelling; but Danticat portrays these bonds with an honesty that shows that sisterhood, too, has its power plays. In the book’s final piece, “Epilogue: Women Like Us,” she writes: “Are there women who both cook and write? Kitchen poets, they call them. They slip phrases into their stew and wrap meaning around their pork before frying it. They make narrative dumplings and stuff their daughter’s mouths so they say nothing more.” The stories inform and enrich one another, as the female characters reveal a common ancestry and ties to the fictional Ville Rose. In addition to the power of Danticat’s themes, the book is enhanced by an element of suspense (we’re never certain, for example, if a rickety boat packed with refugees introduced in the first tale will reach the Florida coast). Spare, elegant and moving, these stories cohere into a superb collection.

All Souls’ Rising

In this first installment of his epic Haitian trilogy, Madison Smartt Bell brings to life a decisive moment in the history of race, class, and colonialism. The slave uprising in Haiti was a momentous contribution to the tide of revolution that swept over the Western world at the end of the 1700s. A brutal rebellion that strove to overturn a vicious system of slavery, the uprising successfully transformed Haiti from a European colony to the world’s first Black republic. From the center of this horrific maelstrom, the heroic figure of Toussaint Louverture–a loyal, literate slave and both a devout Catholic and Vodouisant–emerges as the man who will take the merciless fires of violence and vengeance and forge a revolutionary war fueled by liberty and equality.

Bell assembles a kaleidoscopic portrait of this seminal movement through a tableau of characters that encompass black, white, male, female, rich, poor, free and enslaved. Pulsing with brilliant detail, All Soul’s Rising provides a visceral sense of the pain, terror, confusion, and triumph of revolution.

Sabbath’s Theater

Sabbath’s Theater is a comic creation of epic proportions, and Mickey Sabbath is its gargantuan hero. Once a scandalously inventive puppeteer, Sabbath at sixty-four is still defiantly antagonistic and exceedingly libidinous. But after the death of his long-time mistress—an erotic free spirit whose adulterous daring surpassed even his own—Sabbath embarks on a turbulent journey into his past. Bereft and grieving, besieged by the ghosts of those who loved and hated him most, he contrives a succession of farcical disasters that take him to the brink of madness and extinction.