A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
100 stories for Haiti: assessing the middle man … (Review by Anne Brooke)
100 Stories for Haiti is a unique collection of stories bound together by paper and glue and massive amounts of hope. This is no ordinary book. One morning a writer woke up and decided “I must do something.” Hundreds of talented authors worldwide sent him their stories and the result is an anthology that anyone can enjoy. Proceeds go to helping the victims of the Haiti earthquake. So open this book and pick a page. There’s nowhere to start and nowhere to finish. If you find one story, one page, one line entertaining: buy it.
Yes, well, it’s jolly hard to write a purely book-focused review after such a blurb but, as I am well known for having a heart harder than Gordon Brown’s head, I intend to do exactly that.
First of all, I think it’s an ultimately thankless task to publish a collection of short stories by different authors and with no discernable theme, and this book does suffer from that. There are also, to my mind, far too many stories, some with little literary merit. It might have been better with fifty stories, or even twenty-five. One hundred is too overwhelming and too unwieldy. It needed a strong editor who was prepared to say no. I was also disappointed that there is no index of authors, no biographies, and neither do their names appear in the list of contents. I found this very frustrating, especially as I do know some people who appear in this collection and I was keen to read their stories first. Equally importantly, when I came across a story I enjoyed by an author I didn’t know, I wanted to discover more about that author. Both of these reading pleasures were therefore impossible to perform. A little pre-planning could have made all the difference.
The cost of the book is also overpriced. I’m sorry but £11.99 (not including postage) for a paperback does not cut the literary mustard, I think. It should have been much cheaper, with an option at the publisher’s buying page for people to donate to this cause. It may even have raised more money that way, due to the goodwill factor.
That said, there are some real jewels in this collection. You simply have to ferret about to find them. My favourite by a long chalk was Maureen Vincent-Northam’s Betsy Fudge & the Big Silence. Betsy is a hoot – a kick-ass child with a keen interest in talking and a great determination to prove she can do something everyone says she can’t. I loved her. In fact I could happily read a whole novel about Betsy and still want more. Even though I never read children’s fiction. And this story is perfectly told and superbly finished. More please, Ms Vincent-Northam, whoever you are.
Jenna Wallace’s The Last Bus to Montreal, about a moving brief encounter with a stranger needing a temporary home, was a definite second favourite however. Although the very last line let it down badly. It should really be: I watch it drive off and then you are gone. That’s all you need. I don’t want to be told what emotions the protagonist has – the writing has been so top-notch up to that point that I already know.
And in a strong third place comes Alun Williams’ Potifar Jones’ Experiment with Time and Brains Beer, which is a charmingly insane account of male friendship and time travel. Magical. More about Potifar, please … Moreover, it wins the most bizarre yet strangely apt title prize. How I love a good title.
I was also pleased to see a mix of flash fiction amongst the more conventional short stories (though none of them are long at all), and I liked the clarity of Sarah Ann Watts’ The Cloud Dragon, the precision of Claudia Boers’ Anna and Nineteen, the fantastical nature of RJ Newlyn’s Jacob’s Ladder, the sheer poetry of Maire Cooney’s The Last Boy on Earth, the naughtiness (oo-err, missus!) of Martin Reed’s Lola Loves Loving, and the spookiness and humour of Dave Creek’s Three Questions. However, I must admit to being a tad disappointed with the usually fascinating Tania Hershman’s offering of Mugs, as that story actually already appears in her collection, The White Road and Other Stories. Hmm, a perfectly decent piece of flash fiction indeed (though not quite finished, to my mind), but providing a previously published and still available story doesn’t quite seem in the spirit of the thing really …
Other stories that made it onto my good stuff and I’d like to read more from this author list were:
· Mo Fanning’s About Time: a story about the vital importance of cake and being yourself
· Sian Harris’ Amplified Distance: a bleak tale about the concerns for a loved one at war
· Catriona Gunn’s And The First Note Sang: a surreal and lyrical (sorry!) piece about music
· Jason E Thummel’s Contact: where God turns up in very mysterious places
· Layla O’Mara’s The Forgetting: a poignant story about first love remembered
· Nuala Ni Chonchuir’s Juno Out of Yellow: a deeply satisfying tale of art and infidelity
· April L Hamilton’s Justice for Cody: a sentimental but strangely moving account of a mother’s response to her son’s accident
· Clare Reddaway’s Marco’s Ice Cream: a stylish and energetic story about how ice cream can change your life
· John Booth’s The Painting: a poignant tale about art and lost friendship
· Ian Rochford’s Voice in the Night: a warm-hearted ghost story
· Claudine Lazar’s Your Voice: a purely character-driven tale with a great deal of poignancy and a spark of hope for us all.
In my opinion, these are the stories to aim for in this book. You can find it here and support Haiti at the same time. Or, if you have either already bought the book or simply don’t wish to, and continue to feel the charitable urge, you can visit the Red Cross directly and cut out the middle man. The choice is yours.
100 Stories for Haiti, Bridge House Publishing 2010, ISBN: 978 1 907335 03 7
Toussaint Louverture: a story from Haiti (article by Kirsty)
TOUSSAINT, the most unhappy of men!
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den; -
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.
Haiti won its independence in 1804, following a thirteen-year revolutionary process. The historical importance of this should not be underrated, although it often is. The first and only country to gain independence through slave rebellion fuelled further rebellions and inspired abolitionists; it also terrified those whose interests lay in maintaining an economic and social order based on slavery. Toussaint Louverture, the brilliant autodidact and self-made military leader at its head, became a Haitian national icon and a hero to slaves throughout the US and British colonies.
As with most (perhaps all) national heroes, there is sometimes a distinction between the man and the icon; recent scholarship has thrown some of the familiar elements of his story into doubt and explored the complexities of his life and his leadership. But this does not matter. The historical Toussaint Louverture is fascinating, not to mention extraordinarily impressive. He became a hero because his actions and words have global resonance. Even the manner of his death – in an Alpine dungeon, after betrayal and abduction ended his brief retirement – reverberates on a symbolic level. This is a man who requires no mythologising.
An excellent start in getting to know Toussaint is The Louverture Project, an open access site which has a tremendous amount of primary and secondary source material as well as a comprehensive bibliography of print and online sources. The Marxists Internet Archive has a collection of writings by Toussaint as well as his definitive biographer, the Trinidadian writer C L R James.
This reproduction of a French engraving of Toussaint Louverture from 1802 is in the public domain in the United States and in those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years. This photograph of the work is also in the public domain in the United States (see Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.)