My Brave Haitian Family by Robert Monestime is a heartbreaking story of living in a beautiful, but very poor country, and under the rule of a cruel and despotic dictator who could, and did, at a whim forever change anybody’s life. While Haiti has been brought to the forefront in the recent history after the earthquake that devastated it in 2010, many people have all but forgotten for how long that country has been mistreated and its people left at the mercy of a series of leaders who did not care for them at all.
Mr. Monestime is one of 15 children, born into a solidly middle-class Haitian family. His father was a soldier in the Haitian Army, who was later promoted to an officer. What surely seemed like such great luck at the time of promotion ended up being the reason for the family nearly falling apart after Marc Monestime, Robert’s father, was arrested together with 18 of his fellow officers and accused of plotting against the president, or more precisely, of “coup d’état, mutiny and attempted assassination of the President of the Republic.” They were found guilty by a court-martial panel, stripped of their ranks, sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad.
Since a few of Marc’s children were already young men at the time of their father’s execution, it quickly became evident that they were in grave danger as well. The entire family sought refuge at the embassy of Panama, and eventually managed to emigrate to the United States, where they were met by Guy, one of Robert’s siblings, who was in the U.S. Navy at the time. The process of leaving Haiti was not a simple one, and the family was divided for a while after the permission to leave was only granted to women and children under the age of seventeen. Eventually the rest of the family was permitted to leave as well, and they were reunited. They found a new home in the United States and it made me smile to read how they adapted and prospered here.
While Mr. Monestime’s story did get a bit confusing at times, what with all the relatives and neighbors and friends, their names and their relationships, place names and the minutiae described, My Brave Haitian Family kept my interest throughout. His love for his family as well as his country clearly shone through even the darkest parts of the narrative, and as difficult as telling this story must have been for him, he did it with courage, class and dignity. While a story like this can not have a completely happy ending, since nothing can bring their beloved father back, I was truly glad to see that the family found a measure of peace in joy in their new home country.
(Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views)