BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti by Frances Temple

Taste of SaltIf Youme’s Sélavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope is a picture book for the youngest readers, then Taste of Salt is surely its companion title for older children and parents alike. The real-life Lanfami Sélavi – Jean-Bertrand Aristide‘s refuge for homeless children founded in 1986 – is prominently featured in Salt, as is Aristide’s struggles to establish a democratic Haiti, free from the brutality of the two-generation Duvalier dynasty and the terrorizing military regime that followed. The late Frances Temple manages to adapt the patois of the young people’s Kreyòl into English, writing in a fractured, elliptical style that emphasizes the day-to-day urgency of what’s happening in the hospital room and the sweeping transformations developing outside.

The year is 1991, and Titid, as he’s called, wants to make sure the children’s stories are preserved. “He knows how to use stories to make things happen, to make the way of the world change.” That change is long overdue in Haiti, where the violent macoutes – a vicious military force originally created by François “Papa Doc” Duvalier – continue their terrorizing spree, including the firebombing of Titid’s Lanfami Sélavi.

Seventeen-year-old Djo and his cousin called Lanfami Sélavi home. But now cousin Lally is dead and Djo lies in a hospital bed, bludgeoned and burned, floating between life and death. Into his room arrives young Jeremie at Titid’s behest, tape recorder in hand. Little by little, day after day, Jeremie encourages Djo to share his experiences, from a time when he danced on his father’s shoulders, was rocked in his mother’s arms, learned numbers and letters from his older sister … to when he was kidnapped and enslaved for years on a Dominican sugar plantation but learned kindness and dignity from a dying old man … to his return to be one of “Titid’s boys.”

When Djo falls into a coma, Jeremie shares her own secrets with him, hoping and praying her voice will bring Djo back. She speaks of her life with her mother and aunt and their hope that a convent education will raise her out the slums, as well as the too-many horrors she has already witnessed in her young life.

Djo and Jeremie’s young stories intertwine, and they dare dream of a brave new Haiti that Titid is beginning to lead. As long as they can survive – with determined hope and tenacious dedication – they will continue to share the dangerous journey toward freedom …

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 1992


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