cover image Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola

Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola

Michele Wucker. Hill & Wang, $27.5 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-8090-3719-3

The U.S. has sent troops to Haiti and the Dominican Republic four times in this century, twice to each country. In the last 20 years, reports Wucker, one-eighth of the population of the island of Hispaniola has emigrated to the U.S. Wucker, a freelance journalist, delves much deeper than mere numbers and chronology, supplementing her knowledge of the island's history with a great sense of the fabric of everyday life in the two countries. While each chapter is discrete enough to stand alone, cumulatively they create a passionate mural of the often bloody relationship between wary neighbors. Among the critical issues and events Wucker addresses are the role of geography as a barrier, European settlement, slave revolts, the role of the sugar industry and the experience of Dominican and Haitian immigrants in the U.S. Wucker's treatment of Dominican racism toward Haitians is particularly good, capturing the nuance and ambivalence at work when two peoples who are not nearly as different as they would sometimes like to believe are stuck together on a small piece of land with limited resources. Throughout the book, Wucker uses the metaphor of cockfighting, presenting the countries as two roosters forced (sometimes by the U.S.) to battle in a small, enclosed ring. If she relies a bit too heavily on this trope, Wucker more than makes up for the minor indulgence with her insightful treatment of many cultural issues, particularly the politicized nature of language, to which she brings an understanding of Creole, Spanish and French. Clear prose and vivid scenes of life at street level make Wucker's first book a marvelous immersion experience in the clash and conciliation of cultures on a small, embattled island next door. (Jan.) FYI: Why the Cocks Fight makes good companion reading to Edwidge Danticat's novel, The Farming of Bones (Forecasts, June 8.)