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Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti

Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti

4.4 9
by Frances Temple

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Every Life
Makes a Story

Djo has a story: Once he was one of "Titid's boys," a vital member of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide's election team, fighting to overthrow military dictatorship in Haiti. Now he is barely alive, the victim of a political firebombing.

Jeremie has a story: Convent-educated Jeremie can climb out of the slums of Port-au-Prince.


Every Life
Makes a Story

Djo has a story: Once he was one of "Titid's boys," a vital member of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide's election team, fighting to overthrow military dictatorship in Haiti. Now he is barely alive, the victim of a political firebombing.

Jeremie has a story: Convent-educated Jeremie can climb out of the slums of Port-au-Prince. But she is torn between her mother's hopes and her own wishes for herself ... and for Haiti.

Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide has a story: A dream of a new Haiti, one in which every person would have a decent life ... a house with a roof ... clean water to drink ... a good plate of rice and beans every day ... a field to work in.

At Aristide's request, Djo tells his story to Jeremie -- for Titid believes in the power of all of their stories to make change. As Jeremie listens to Djo, and to her own heart, she knows that they will begin a new story, one that is all their own, together.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This arresting first novel presents a powerful fictional portrait of the poverty and oppression in contemporary Haiti. Seventeen-year-old Djo, one of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's bodyguards, has been badly beaten by the macoutes , violent members of Duvalier's private army. While Djo is recovering in the hospital, Fr. Aristide convinces him to dictate his life story to a girl scribe named Jeremie. Djo reveals the key events of his childhood in brutally vivid detail: he left home early because his mother had too many mouths to feed; he taught reading to younger boys at Aristide's shelter; he was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a sugar cane worker. In the person of Djo, Temple has successfully created a martyr for the people. His narrative contains a smattering of social and political insights as well as excerpts from Aristide's motivational writings and speeches. Djo's and Jeremie's dialect is never cumbersome for the reader--a glossary appears at the end of the book--and lends authenticity to their accounts. Djo's extraordinary experiences and circumstances shed harsh light on a people in crisis. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
This is a powerful story of the political chaos and social injustice in contemporary Haiti. The story is told through the narration of two individuals - Djo, a streetchild taken in and raised by Father Aristide, and Jeremie, who led a sheltered life in a convent. The book ends with Aristide becoming president and the teenagers' fervent hope that their beloved homeland will be freed from tyranny. Jane Addams Book Award winner, a School Library Journal Best Book, and a Horn Book Fanfare award.
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-- Haiti is the setting for this novel of two young people whose growth toward matu rity mirrors the same process taking place in their volatile country. Based on real incidents and people, it is the fascinating story of fiction al Djo, one of Aristide's boys, street urchins whom the priest gathered together to give an opportunity for a different life and a chance at an education. Jeremie is a young woman edu cated at a convent school, the only way out of the slums into which she was born. They meet at Djo's hospital bedside where he is near death from a beating at the hands of the Tonton Ma coute, the deposed Duvalier's private army of thugs; she is responsible for getting Djo's story on tape. While he is in a coma, she writes her own story. Both of their accounts are full of the grim realities of life in modern Haiti, complete with the sense of hopefulness and helplessness that must fill a country in which politics are a deadly game. Dialect is used throughout, but it is readable, lyrical, and adds authenticity to the narrative. Factual material is integrated ex tremely well; no background knowledge is needed to become caught up in the drama of the many in this embattled land as related through the eyes of two compelling characters. An excellent first effort. --Kathryn Havris, Mesa Pub . Lib . , AZ

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
A Trophy Bk.
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.16(w) x 6.82(h) x 0.54(d)
650L (what's this?)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

It is not quiet, here in this make-do hospital, but it is peaceful. A white curtain separates me from the other people who lie here, groaning sometimes, coughing. A window at my feet faces out to the street. I can hear the taptap callers, the fresco vendors, the egg seller's shout, the truck horns. But nobody is calling me.

In the soft, warm air floats the flat smell of blood, the sharp smell of pee, the floor bleach. These smells make my eyes water and bring a taste of metal to my throat. They are better than no smells, I think.

I wonder if I will die here.

I watch the white curtain move softly in the breeze.

Beside the curtain, someone has written on the wall.


We love Djo. Stand up, Djo.

I remember that I am Djo.

Who wrote that? Maybe some small boy from Lafanmi. Lafanmi Selavi, the shelter set up by Father Aristide, the man we call Titid, who also started this clinic. The shelter where I used to live.

Thank you, whoever wrote on the wall. Cbapo ba: I take my hat off to you.

But don't ask me to get up, little brother. My feet at the bottom of the bed don't take orders from me.

Titid says I can no longer be his bodyguard, since my own body is so broken. Until it is fit again, I can no longer be useful in that way. But Titid says that it is not only the body, with its feet and hands and strong back that can be useful. He says the mind and spirit are useful, too. That mine are still strong, despite the blows. Titid says that for this work of storytelling, I am fit. I don't know if he sees true. What I am is tired. Bright day passes outside the window of this place like asmall gold dream. So fast it will be nighttime.

Titid has invited someone to my bedside to listen to my story. He says each time I sleep, I will remember, and when I wake, I must tell everything to the man that brings the tape recorder.

I think Titid is afraid I will die altogether, like Lally, like Marcel. And if I tell my story to the tape recorder man, whoever he be, then I will not die entirely. Titid loves me. Also Titid is a politician. He knows how to use stories to make things happen, to make the way of the world change. And I am Titid's helper, one of his boys. I did not help him enough, the night the Macoutes came and firebombed the shelter. But lying on this cot like some flipped-over cricket, I am still one of Titid's team.

"Ah! Today we are lucky!"

"God smiles . . ."

"Komon ou ye?"

"Pa pyu mal, mamzelle, pa pyu mal."

I hear approving voices up and down the ward. By the commotion, I know that a good-looking woman is coming this way.

And I hear a woman murmur polite old-fashioned greetings in a soft voice:

"Honor. . . . Respect. . . . Honor."

Oh, no. She is coming here, to my end of the hall! Titid has tricked me! It is a beautiful black girl that brings the tape recorder, and here I lie, flat on my backside in this bed, so ugly, so weak. My hair, what was not burned off, is shaved. My head is lumpy from the Macoutes' bludgeons. My eyes are swollen halfshut like an old drunkard. I seem one hundred and not seventeen.

And Titid thinks that it is to this woman I will tell my troubles?

What can I do?

No way to hide.

I pretend sleep.

My head hurts. My throat is too dry. I wish suddenly that I can be one or the other: truly alive or else truly dead.

When I open my eyes again, the light from the window is bright. Against it I see the girl, still here. She is biting her fingernails. She is nervous. She is maybe going to cry. Oh, Lord.

"Mamzelle. " What else can I call her?

The girl jumps a mile. Dead man speak.

"Oh! Excuse. You are Djo?"

I see she has been reading the wall.

"What be left of him," I say.

No smile. "You can talk, Djo?" she asks.

I nod. I can talk, but is a lot of trouble.

"Would you like some water?"

"Souple, please."

She lifts my head to give me water. Very serious and careful. She not touch me at all, only hold the pillow. I think this girl make a good nurse. Then I notice she is shaking.

"Father Aristide gave me this tape recorder machine," she says.

"So tell me. For my story." Is easier to talk now I have water.

"Do you want to, Djo? Do you want to talk for the tape?" She tries to look at me and quickly turns away. Tears come to her eyes, because she is looking at my own eyes, swollen and bloody.

"You going to splash the water," I tell her.

She sets down the cup, sure enough splashing water. She puts her hands together between her knees. Her knees shaking, even.

This girl is too nervous.

"I will tell you everything if you will tell me your name," I say, to cheer her. She looks at me from the corner of her eye, and she smiles, a little uncertain.

"Jeremie," she says. I think it a beautiful name, like a town I heard of once, with pink and blue houses, by the sea. A funny name for a girl.

"Punch you recorder, then, Jeremie," I say.

If I close my eyes, maybe the girl relax. If I just forget her and make my mind float . . .

It begins way back," I say. "Back when my mama borned me. In that place in Cite Soleil with the blue walls and the picture of Christ with his red heart, and the green beads that hang in the doorway to keep away flies. This room, our room, is more tall than wide.

Meet the Author

Frances Temple grew up in Virginia, France, and Vietnam. About her third book she wrote, "The Ramsay Scallop is about our need for adventure and motion, for throwing in with strangers, trusting and listening. The story began to take form in northern Spain along pilgrim trails; was fed by histories, stories, letters, by the testimony of a fourteenthcentury shepherd, by the thoughts of today's pilgrims. Concerns echo across years-clean water, good talk, risks welcomed, the search for a peaceful heart. Traveling in Elenor's shoes, I found out how strongly the tradition of pilgrimage continues."Ms. Temple received many honors during her distinguished career. Her other critically acclaimed books for young people include: FranceTaste of Salt A Story of Modern Haiti, winner of the 1993 Jane Addams Children's Book Award; Grab hands and Run, cited by SchoolLibrary journal as one of the Best Books of 1993; and Tonight, by Sea another novel set in Haiti.

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Taste of Salt : A Story of Modern Haiti 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book after the 2010 earthquake, learning a little bit about Haiti and wanting to know more. To understand the context of the story, I would highly recommend reading Tracey Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains first, followed by Graham Greene's The Comedians.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was really good! It opened my eyes to what really goes on outside the united states. i loved the specifics frances temple gave about Djo's childhood and grown up years. i couldn't even begin to imagine living over there. Or knowing that me or a family member could be captured and turned into a slave. Its a must read for everyone. I had to read it for global and trust me reading isnt one of my favorite things. usually it takes me forever to get through a book but this had me hooked and wasnt at a hard reading level. Overall wonderful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was a good book for a snow day or a lazy day where you're not doing anything anyway. It doesn't take long to read, but it definitely gives you something to think about.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is really captivating. I read it in a day and wanted more of it...... I would recommend this book to anyone from age 10 to 99.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book for the classroom. It gives students here in the United States a look of what it is like to live in Haiti. I personally, will push to have this read in classrooms. It is a true eye opener. Hopefully, after reading this book, young students will take more of an interest in the world around them, and maybe even be moved enough to change what until now previous generations have not.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book appeases all from ages 8-15!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was an ok book, but I would need to know more about the culture and how to pronounce the names and that stuff to actually understand the book fully.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book gives you a feeling of awe. Listening to Djo's struggles and outcomes, makes you realize anything is possible. Just strive for what you want. Life should be important to everyone.