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Kathie Klarreich

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Early on in her stay in Port-au-Prince, writes Kathie Klarreich in her new memoir, Madame Dread: A Tale of Love, Vodou, and Civil Strife in Haiti (Nation Books), she saw a crowd and followed it. It led to the temporarily unoccupied home of a retired general, where people were engaged in dechoukaj, or "uprooting"--systematically and competitively stripping the house and redistributing the wealth on the street, exacting revenge on the alleged mastermind of a massacre. It's partly her willingness to follow her instincts that turned Klarreich from a visitor to Haiti to a resident. Klarreich landed in Haiti in 1988, at 33, to buy handicrafts for the shop she managed in San Francisco. But she fell in love with the country, and with a Haitian musician--whom she later married and whose dreadlocks inspired her nickname, "Madame Dread." She stumbled into a career as a journalist when after a coup a friend suggested she start reporting; since then she's worked as a correspondent for, among others, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. Most interesting here are Klarreich's descriptions of her possession by a lwa, or spirit; of her interactions with street children over many years; and of the prepresidential Aristide as social activist. The book is marred by a lack of introspection at the beginning--and by the distracting similes lavishly sprinkled throughout--but it's an intriguing and haunting look at Haiti's cycle of hope, despair, and violence over three decades. Klarreich appears with Erica Rand and Christine Wicker as part of the Bookslut Reading Series. Thu 1/26, 7:30 PM, Hopleaf Bar, 5148 N. Clark, 312-850-4277.

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