THE STONE THAT THE BUILDER REFUSED
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Readers unfamiliar with the previous books in Bell's Haitian rebellion trilogy might feel like latecomers to an intense, raucous party in the first hundred pages of this final installment. Multiple characters and backstories form a somewhat opaque context for the events of 1802, when a French army commanded by Napoleon's brother-in-law, Leclerc, landed in Haiti (then called Saint Domingue) in an attempt to overthrow Toussaint's government and gradually restore slavery. The book moves from the burning of the town of Cap Francais—ordered by one of Toussaint's generals, Christophe, in response to Leclerc's demand to submit—to the war in the Haitian countryside, ending with Toussaint's unexpected surrender and his betrayal by Leclerc and Touissant's black generals Dessalines, Christophe and Maurepas. With a panoramic vision of battle reminiscent of Shelby Foote, Bell recreates the devastating counterstrokes the black generals devised against the French at Ravine à Couleuvre and La Crête à Pierrot. Through it all, he retains as a narrative anchor Doctor Hébert, who operates in both the worlds of the blanc and the nèg . Bell intercuts scenes of the war in Haiti with Toussaint's terrible last days in a French jail in the Jura Mountains. This lends an air of unbearable pathos to this tangled, tragic history. In exploring the line between atrocity and liberation, Bell's novel is unexpectedly and powerfully relevant to our times. Agent, Jane Gelfman . (Nov.)