#BookReview: The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint

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My Review

Prior to picking up Keith Madsen’s debut novel, The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint, my view of the country of Haiti had been through the stereotypical lens of the news media. Haiti is typically portrayed as a third-world country in the Caribbean whose people live in grinding poverty, beset by periodic hurricanes, earthquakes, and outbreaks of disease. The Haitians’ lot in life is made even worse by violent crime and a history of intractable political corruption.

The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint served to change this view by first providing the story of Haiti’s break from enslavement by the French, as seen through the eyes of Toussaint Louverture–a principle leader of the Haitian Revolution–then picking up the spirit of revolution in one of his fictional twentieth-first-century descendants, Isaac Brede.

In addition to Isaac Brede, two other characters served to break the stereotype of the Haitian people as wallowing hopelessly in the gutter: Marie-Noelle and her brother Henri. Marie-Noelle is a beautiful young woman who leaves Haiti to take New York by storm as a fashion model. Her brother Henri also leaves Haiti to attend college in the US. Both are talented, smart, and ambitious

The first half of the novel alternates between the 19th and 21st centuries, opening with a chess game between Toussaint Louverture and none other than Napoleon Boneparte.

I was surprised by how bloody and violent the 19th century sections of the novel were, including the killing of women and children. Upon reflection, I came to realize similarities with the Nat Turner Rebellion, which William Styron imagined in The Confessions of Nat Turner. Both novels raise the question of the morality of violent resistance to slavery and oppression when it includes the slaughter of innocents.

Another noteworthy thematic element of The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint is the clothing company started by Marie-Noelle and one of her fellow models. They initially start the company to provide attractive and affordable clothing drawing on their Haitian heritage. As resistance to Isaac Brede’s peace work grows, Marie-Noelle’s company becomes the rallying cry for peaceful resistance to bring about social change, in particular the “Nou pas pe” t-shirts: We are not afraid.

In addition to the social justice theme, the novel features a love story between Marie-Noelle and Isaac Brede. It begins as immature flirting, is tempered by the hardship of time spend apart as Marie-Noelle pursues her modeling career in New York, deepens into marriage, and endures past death.

Towards the end of the novel, I was shocked by what happens to Marie-Noelle at a rally, then gratified to see how she comes to accept it, and, ultimately, to triumph over it to serve as a bastion of hope for the future of her fellow countrymen and women.

I particularly appreciated the message of hope in The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint–that even in a country as troubled as Haiti, all is not lost. I highly recommend this thought-provoking novel to readers who have an interest in questions of social justice and the men and women who grapple with these questions while still fulfilling the need to live their own lives.

From Keith

I am a retired minister who has taken five trips to Haiti, four to help build an elementary school near Cap Haitian, and one to help dedicate that school. I have been gripped by the contrast between Haiti’s historical importance to the Americas and their present plight as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. But I have also been impressed by the spirit of the Haitian people, and their persistence in the midst of so much adversity. This started me reading about a great leader I remember reading about back in junior high, Toussaint Louverture. What would happen if his spirit and vision could be revived? Then I came across a quote from Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” That got me going on applying it to Haiti, and the novel flowed!

106 thoughts on “#BookReview: The Sons and Daughters of Toussaint

  1. This is a very interesting review, Liz. I had never read anything about life in Haiti until a few years ago when I read a book about the slave uprising in Haiti. In December last year I read Vanished by Mark Bierman which is also set in Haiti. I learned a lot from both of these stories. This review provides some tantalizing information about Haitians and sounds like a great read.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Excellent review, Liz! I’ve read one novel about Haiti that prominently features Toussaint Louverture — “All Souls’ Rising,” which I had mixed feelings about. “The S0ns and Daughters of Toussaint” sounds better! As always, I appreciate the way you follow a review with a look at the author!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Mary Agnes has cousins who, back in their younger years, made Missionary trips to Haiti. Some interesting stories arrived as well as some good Rum. Once again, I add a book to my reading list. The country’s Merry-Go-Round of leadership has not served it well. Another leader toppled could be Haiti’s mantra. We have the Champlain graduate here for our granddaughter’s wedding this Saturday. His first outing from Soho, NYC since March. Peace and Safety my virtual friend.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think you will particularly enjoy the book, since you have a connection to Haiti. How wonderful that you’re able to visit with family! Even better that it’s on the occasion of a wedding.

      Like

  4. Thanks for the review, Liz. That first paragraph is so grim, and as you said, picked up from media reports. It is how I, also, think of Haiti. The only way to learn otherwise is to read about it as you have done.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you very much for this intersting and touching post. I would never have thought that in Haiti not everything is lost! Anway, in my book “The Cubans” by Anthony DePalma,people try very hard to build up a business in the clothing sector.
    Best regards

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I think in these very poor and desperate countries people succeed in producing at much cheaper prices than we are used in the West, but at what conditions! I usually don’t buy cloth from these countries, but there are pro and contras! It was good to receive your answer, Liz:)
        Best regards Martina

        Liked by 2 people

  6. You have the best book reviews, Liz. This book sounds like an excellent read for our times and a way to gain understanding of Haiti. You reminded me of one of my favourite quotes: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Interesting review. Years ago I spent a summer reading about Haiti through nonfiction and literature. I was sparked by political unrest of the time. Sounds like this novel might be a good addition.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The book sounds interesting, Liz. Thanks for sharing. I have a FB friend who lived in Haiti for a time. The historical revolution reminded me that many fled to Philadelphia in 1793 (white slaveowners and their slaves) . . .for something I’m working on. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

          1. Interesting, Liz! My dissertation/first book was on marital problems in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Pennsylvania, and since then I’ve written/edited several works on sexuality and sexual violence. You might be interested in my friend Else Hambleton’s work on pregnant single women and brides in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, Daughters of Eve. She also wrote essays for two of my collections on rape cases in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. You may or may not know that there was a belief that women could not get pregnant unless they had an orgasm, which made rape convictions where there was a pregnancy difficult to obtain. And also, of course, bastardy cases were pursued because they wanted the fathers to pay for the care of the child and not the town.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank your for the additional information about your area of scholarship, Merril. I’ve just added Daughters of Eve to my reading list, although I’ll wait to read it until I’m in a stronger emotional state than I am currently. What was so troubling about the cases Morris researched was that many of them, like my cousin Sarah, were underaged girls raped by men in authority over them. I ‘d heard of the belief that women couldn’t get pregnant unless they’d had an orgasm. I didn’t know how far back the belief went.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yes, it is difficult reading–and an age old story. And for early modern/early American Europeans there was such a strong belief that everyone had to live within a hierarchical household, so young girls (and boys, too) were often stuck with no one to believe them.

                Liked by 1 person

  9. This is an excellent review of Keith’s book, Liz. I like the way you presented as to how the book changed your view of Haiti. Keith’s experience from his trips and work in Haiti, he looked at the history and culture of Haiti from a different perspective and it shows in his book.

    Thank you for a throughout and insightful review and your recommendation, Liz!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This does look really good, Liz. A thoughtful review which I always appreciate. I’m currently reading Alice Hoffman’s The Marriage of Opposites which I’m sure one of my blogger friends has recommended but whose name escapes me. It takes place in St. Thomas, VI during Dutch rule and intertwines the complicated lives of slaves, of whom only half have been liberated, and the Jewish diaspora. This looks like another good Caribbean historical fiction gem. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Great review Liz. Honestly I have no idea about Haiti. I also think we areree mostly closed to learning about cultures and places because we have a set image, more of a stereotype in our minds. That is what I love about reading. It opens us up in countless ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I was so excited to see a post from you. What an unusual book to pick up. The story sounds fascinating, thought-provoking, and inspiring. I too have a view of Haiti influenced by what I see on the news. One of the things that I enjoy about reads like this is how they inform and educate me. Great review, Liz. Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Very good review! The way you describe it, it is like the book takes you down a long passage with many twists and turns. There is great turbulence…I have not read the book, but I sense there are moments where light illuminates the passage,deeper truths emerging as you keep going to the very end of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You’ve opened our eyes to a story of strength and social justice that destroys stereotype. Thanks, Liz; this sounds like another good one. And if there’s anyone who can interest me in a book that wasn’t on my radar, it’s you!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a very old etching of Toussaint and did some reading about him decades ago, but haven’t lately. He was a powerful and interesting man, as is the history of Haiti. The only colony that overthrew the French colonizers, but the financial price they paid through the centuries is incredible.

        Liked by 2 people

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