Book review: Peacekeeping is a fictional look at the reality of life Haiti

Mischa Berlinski’s new novel stands out for doing much more than dramatising news headlines about the beleaguered Caribbean nation.
This book cover image released by Sarah Crichton Books shows Peacekeeping, by Mischa Berlinski. Sarah Crichton Books via AP
This book cover image released by Sarah Crichton Books shows Peacekeeping, by Mischa Berlinski. Sarah Crichton Books via AP

While plenty has been written, in fiction and non-fiction alike, about Haiti’s political disgraces, natural disasters, cultural enigmas and entrenched dysfunctionality, Mischa Berlinski’s new novel stands out for doing much more than dramatising news headlines about the beleaguered Caribbean nation.

On the surface, Peacekeeping is about international intervention in Haiti. It also would be tidy to sum up Berlinski’s debut, Fieldwork, a finalist for the National Book Award, as a novel about anthropological studies in Thailand. Neither description really covers the ways in which he probes the failures of language when stories told by foreigners converge with stories told by locals.

Berlinski writes from personal experiences that he has transported to an alternate reality. He adds a disclaimer to Peacekeeping that he has reimagined recent Haitian history: the novel hinges on an election that did not happen before an earthquake crippled Haiti in 2010, and the United Nations peacekeeping mission he describes doesn’t share the same scandals or successes as the UN force in Haiti now.

Peacekeeping revolves around a failed Florida cop looking to reboot his life as a UN policeman; a light-skinned, diaspora-educated Haitian judge making a run in local politics; and the judge’s dark-skinned wife whose deportee status has left her feeling trapped by her own homeland.

The book playfully picks apart cliches about Haitian resilience and mysticism, to toy with the idea of suffering and whether wanting to do good creates its own kind of hell and absurdist theatre for everyone involved.

Berlinski immerses the reader in an environment so richly detailed that one can almost hear the buzz of insects through the pages, but the novel’s plot transcends its tropical setting, resulting in a deeper exploration of what it means to be an observer.

• Peacekeeping by Mischa Berlinski is available on Amazon

Published: April 2, 2016 04:00 AM

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