This is a very different tale of two cities.
A Haiti-born writer who grew up in both Port-au-Prince and Brooklyn has published a novel featuring a character navigating the very same dual identity. First-time author Dimitry Elias Leger said his book “God Loves Haiti,” which he will read from at PowerHouse Arena in Dumbo in Jan. 22, explores the question that he and so many of his jet-setting peers have grappled with — how to stay connected to Caribbean culture after leaving their homeland.
“How is patriotism negotiated when you have the ability to live anywhere in the world?” said Leger, adding that life on the island is always fluid. “They go back and forth — there are so many people that don’t leave, even though they have that access to leave, and so many people that leave that come back.”
Leger, who spent almost 20 years in Brooklyn and now lives in Switzerland, worked as a journalist in New York and Miami for many years. In 2010, he became an advisor to the United Nations in its disaster recovery operations after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The natural disaster, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and left many more homeless, provides the setting for “God Loves Haiti.”
Leger said the novel centers on a love triangle between a woman and two men. The story is told through a series of flashbacks, alternating between the perspectives of the main characters — Natasha, her husband, and the “love of her life,” Alain — and weaving together vignettes from before and after the devastating disaster.
“As their dreams get shattered, they all try to come to grips with their dreams before the earthquake — and after,” he said.
Legger said the novel is a work of fiction, but the Alain character — who grew up in both New York and Haiti — uses language that mimics the author’s go-to cusses, which he said is a simple way to convey the nuances of nationality.
“Your language — your mother tongue, as they say — becomes clearly the language you’re most comfortable cursing in,” he said. “When things go bad, he’s like, ‘f—.’ His language is as Brooklyn as can be.”
Now that Leger is a father, he said he understands why some families split their time between the two locations of his childhood.
“Haiti is a beautiful place, the Caribbean is awesome — if you can give your kids a summer vacation other than where they went to school in, it is great,” said Leger. “The best of both worlds.”
Dimitry Elias Leger will discuss “God Loves Haiti” at PowerHouse Arena [37 Main St. between Water and Front streets in Dumbo, (718) 666–3049, www.powerhousearena.com]. Jan. 22 at 7 pm. Free.