Julia Alvarez's 6 favorite books
The Heart of Haiti by Andrea Baldeck (Univ. of Pennsylvania, $35). I wrote my book in Vermont, and relied on this collection of haunting photographs to recall the faces of rural Haiti. Each of Baldeck's photos is captioned with a Haitian proverb, a distillation of the wisdom of the rural, oral culture. I considered a number as possible titles, among them "The eye has no boundary" and "God's pencil has no eraser."
Create Dangerously by Edwidge Danticat (Vintage, $15). The devastating 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince occurred while I was working on A Wedding in Haiti, and I was too stunned to continue writing. This 2010 collection of essays by Danticat, a favorite author, gave me a glimpse of many Haitis, not just the broken one in the news. The last essay, "Our Guernica," is a clear-eyed, heartbreaking journey through the fallen city.
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder (Random House, $16). A stirring, nonfiction portrait of physician Paul Farmer. Through his organization, Partners in Health, Farmer has focused on bringing modern medicine to "the triage nations of the world," among them Haiti. While writing, I'd reread sections of this book and be reminded of the ground my own narrative was traveling.
The Places in Between by Rory Stewart (Mariner, $15). I always need teachers when I am writing in a new genre, and I discovered two masters in writing about journeys. Rory Stewart was the first. This thrilling 2004 account of his walk across Afghanistan combines humor, adventure, and clear, sharp writing.
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (Penguin, $16). Chatwin was my other guide. The great English travel writer inspired me with this funny and beautiful account of his efforts to follow the lineage of songs the Australian Aborigines believe hold the world together and have to be sung afresh by each generation.
Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit (Nation Books, $14). Solnit's optimistic guide for political activists was the North Star for A Wedding in Haiti. It's a small, luminous book about how stories can be transformative and how change can come slowly, indirectly, from surprising places.