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Posted November 8, 2005
An American Woman Spellbound in Haiti

NOV. 7, 2005 - MADAME DREAD: A Tale of Love, Vodou and Civil Strife in Haiti. Kathie Klarreich.

368 pages. $15.95 in paper.

Keeping up with Haiti's complex political landscape and cast of characters can be as nerve wracking as trying to get gas after a storm.

Still, with its tormented history and uncertain times, Haiti remains a land of opportunity for a select few: the perennial politicians waiting in line for their shot at the presidency, the lucky locals with cars and the gift of gab who can make a year's salary for a day's work and foreigners. Referred to as blan -- Creole for white -- they are almost immediately seduced by Haiti, romanticizing its prospects, unable to explain the attraction even after heartbreak.

In Madame Dread, Key Biscayne resident Kathie Klarreich chronicles her transformation from a thirtysomething visitor to permanent resident, from manager of a San Francisco-based handicraft store to a freelance Haiti-based journalist, from single Jewish woman to wife and mother possessed by Haiti and its Vodou spirits. ''The spell that Haiti spread over me was not easy to define,'' she writes.

At its best, the book is a primer that provides helpful historical reference for readers looking for a political overview on the chaotic years following the 1986 fall of former dictator Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier.

Klarreich introduces former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, years before he became the country's first democratically elected president and the 1991 military coup that forced his first exile from office.

Though politically charged, the book is careful not to offend, which means it lacks depth. It will disappoint longtime Haiti watchers hoping for fresh insight and hard-hitting analysis.

As someone who was on the scene -- and didn't get their news from the lobby bar, as she points out -- Klarreich was in a unique position to see various sides of the Haitian saga and analyze the shades of gray that so often mask the truth. Instead, however, she peppers readers with simplistic opinions about such unsavory characters as former coup strongman Raoul CÚdras.

``I hated this man who pretended that he'd done what was best for the country when it was wallowing in misery.''

Even Aristide, once hailed as the people's savior, escapes mostly unscathed, a missed opportunity on Klarreich's part to convey to readers the conflicting emotions Haitians feel about him.

Klarreich, whose failure to connect with Haitian women rings loudly, does provide an interesting insight into her relationship with Haitian men. If there is a metaphor that emerges for her bond with Haiti, it's her relationship with her husband, Jean Raymond, a struggling Haitian drummer with whom she has a son.

''Instinctually I knew this man would require a lifetime of emotional and physical energy,'' she writes.

Her description of Raymond as traditional and temperamental, is head on. Also the looming question of infidelity in their relationship -- ''If he was interested, Jean Raymond was going to cheat on me regardless of whether or not I was in town'' -- is something with which many women unfortunately can identify.

''That I had fallen in love with Jean Raymond in a way that I had never experienced with any other man was already a result, I knew, of Haiti, but I couldn't articulate just what had caused it or why,'' she writes. The culture clash is intriguing, but in the end Madame Dread leaves you wanting more. Jacqueline Charles is a Herald staff writer who routinely writes about Haiti.

Reprinted from The Miami Herald of November 7, 2005., the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
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