Dimitry Elias Léger, God Loves Haiti (2015)

9780062348135

Does God love my damaged country? This novel’s central question is a Dante paraphrase, and Dimitry Elias Léger’s central character, artist Natasha Robert, is “a self-proclaimed Caribbean-born daughter of Dante.” The Divine Comedy inspires her faith and her art, which features crucifixes, “Dante’s circles of hell,” “a forgiving, Haitian-looking Jesus.”  When the 2010 earthquake strikes Port-au-Prince, she is at the airport with her new husband, Haiti’s President, about to board a plane that will take them into exile in Italy.

Post-quake, in a world of white dust and broken bodies, Natasha’s first response is to pick a fight with Dante: “Dante was wrong, she thought. This is what hell is like. In hell, you’re alive but everyone and everything that you love is dead and destroyed, and you don’t know what to do or say. Dante didn’t get it. You had to die or receive this kind of news to truly glimpse hell.” The President, meanwhile, lies flat on the tarmac, trying out a near-death vision of his political predecessors arguing with Saint Peter over their place in eternity. Natasha’s lover, Alain Destiné, waits out most of the novel in refugee camp purgatory, posing variations on the question “God, how could You?”

If you are looking for The Divine Comedy in God Loves Haiti, imagine what Dante’s three-story structure might look like after an earthquake. In Léger’s narrative landscape, Inferno, Purgatario, Paradiso are collapsed onto each other in a heap of dust and rubble. There’s room to regret past choices; there’s no clear route to paradise. Yet in the hellish expanses of destruction Léger manages to uncover shards of redemptive beauty and even a medieval plot twist: his eventual solution to the love triangle is far more Beatrice than Beyoncé.    –Julia Boss