I often enjoy books that immerse me in other times and cultures, especially when I know very little about them. Having little knowledge of modern politics in Haiti, Frances Temple’s A Taste of Salt was an engaging and eye opening book for me.
The story centers around two young characters: Djo and Jeremie. Djo is a young man who has grown up in the streets of Port Au Prince. Abandoned by his family from an early age due to their poverty, Djo finds a home at Lafanmi Selavi, a shelter set up by the Catholic priest Jean –Bertrand Aristide. Having a little schooling, Djo is able to become a teacher there, instructing the other street boys in reading and writing. As time passes, Titid (Aristide) begins speaking out more and more on the injustices in Haiti. Titid and his street children, including Djo, are marked for attack by the prevailing political order and their terrifying henchmen the Tonton macoutes. But there are other threats as well as Djo learns when he is kidnapped, and transported to the Dominican Republic to cut cane on a sugar plantation.
Jeremie, a young woman in Port Au Prince, is also born into poverty, but her home life is more stable. Her mother and aunt push her to work hard in school in the hopes that she will pull herself out of La Saline, the name of the slum in which she lives. With this in mind she wins many awards in school, but she finds that she cannot escape the brutal political violence of Haiti. After witnessing a massacre at a voting location and then the destruction of Titid’s church St. Jean Busco, Jeremie realizes that she must use her energy to help transform Haiti.
I thought that this book was an excellent read because it was both entertaining and educational. I particularly enjoyed reading about Djo’s resourceful ways in which he deals with the horrendous life of cutting cane in Dominicae. A Taste of Salt was published in 1992 and won the Jane Addam’s Children’s Book Award. I’d recommend it to any young reader who wants to know more about Haiti, how underprivileged people cope with a dictatorial regime, and whether change is possible in broken societies.