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Devil Makes Three

A Novel

by Ben Fountain

Devil Makes Three by Ben Fountain X
Devil Makes Three by Ben Fountain
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  • Published Sep 2023
    544 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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There are currently 32 member reviews
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  • Amy S. (Tucson, AZ)
    A Compelling History Lesson
    I'm so grateful to have received this book-requested specifically because I knew so little about Haiti, other than as a country embroiled in constant turmoil and disaster.
    It took me a long time to read because I often found myself putting the book down to research the events being described.

    Sadly, the situation in Haiti was/is even worse than I imagined. The depth of Haiti's troubles really hit me as Fountain described the intake process at the hospital. My heart hurts. His knowledge on the subject is vast!

    Yet, Fountain also shows the resilience of the Haitian people and their refusal to give up on their country, specifically for me through three characters affected far less than the rest of population. Both Misha and Alix had the opportunity to leave the country, but they didn't. Misha even abandoned her Ph.D. studies to begin working in a hospital. Dr. Jean keeps his hospital up and running, applying for grants and just showing up every day.

    I think there are a lot of devils in Haiti's history, and it is apparent that making deals with them is a dangerous game.
  • Sharon J. (Raleigh, NC)
    Devil Makes Three Review
    I have always been intrigued by Haitian history and had the usual stereotypical knowledge of the country and its people. But after reading Devil Makes Three, by Ben Fountain I felt I had been transported into the cultural and political mecca of this complex country during the 1990's. Everything from Coup d'etat, Vodou beliefs and political and violent power plays set in a very poor nation were undercurrent for many story lines. I found the characters very diverse and authentic. While the story slowed at times, I felt like it paralleled the Haitians lives during this time period. Told through the eyes of Matt, an American who really just wants to exist and make a clean living with a Dive shop but he gets lured in over his head with treasure hunts and the political evils of the time. I also enjoyed the authors development of Misha, a well educated Haitian who is a member of the upperclass Variel family that goes from a book smart historian to immersed in the dark helpless side of life in Haiti. Long but well worth the read.
  • Darlene B. (New Castle, PA)
    Violent Coup in Haiti USAID = Freedom and Prosperity for All?
    "Getting medicine into Haiti depends on knowing who to bribe... The embargo just makes the price go up."

    I was excited to receive a copy of 'Devil Makes Three' by Ben Fountain because I thoroughly enjoyed his previous novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk'. There is a general theme which runs through Ben Fountain's writing... an open skepticism of the foreign policy of the United States government.

    'Devil Makes Three' begins with a brutal military coup which displaces President Aristide in Haiti in 1991. Although the story eloquently and sympathetically portrays the economic and social hardships and precariousness of the lives of the Haitian people (most especially the poorest people), the tale does focus on a particular prominent family- the Variel family... Alix Variel, in particular and his best friend and business partner, American ex-pat Matt Amaker.

    When the coup occurs, Matt (who is running a scuba business with Alix) on some choice beachfront property, is forced to flee for his life when the property and all he has worked for is seized by the new military government. He must leave behind his hopes and dreams and must decide if he will continue to live in Haiti or do as many of the other Haitians with financial means do... get on a boat and head to Miami. As time goes on, Matt and Alix decide to try their luck with a new venture in Haiti. They set up a diving business to attempt to scour the underwater shipwrecks which are rumored to be scattered along the southern coast of Haiti. Who knows what treasures are within those forgotten ships? Perhaps gold? Unfortunately, their new business venture catches the attention of not only the new military regime but also a CIA agent whose identity seems to be somewhat in question and some personnel from the United States government who purport to be in Haiti to provide humanitarian aid (also known as USAID). This scrutiny and unwanted attention leads Alix and Matt on a harrowing and life-threatening path, which ultimately changes the course of their lives and schools them in the harsh realities of politics and power.

    I LOVED this novel! At 544 pages, this book IS a chunky one.. but in my view, it is definitely worth the time and attention. I had the sense that Ben Fountain actually spent real time in Haiti, getting to know the people and their traditions and just how things really work in terms of their economy and politics. And if you have ever wondered why certain countries experience coup after coup and why certain agencies representing the United States government who are supposedly in the center of things to provide humanitarian relief and yet the lives of those very people never seem to get materially better... well, this book just may provide you with some food for thought.
  • Eileen C. (New York, NY)
    Love in Times of Turmoil
    Haiti is a place of contradictions. Full of beauty and culturally rich, it has also been hit, time and again, by political turmoil and humanitarian crises. Its prominent place in the news recently makes this deeply humane book, set in 1991 after the overthrow of President Aristide, even more timely and interesting. Reminiscent of the best of Graham Greene's work, Fondant writes deftly about both the characters who are white Americans as well as those from a prominent, wealthy Haitian family. It is a tense, compelling novel. If you are at all interested in Haiti and what happens when we lose sight of other people's humanity and inherent worth, this book is for you.
  • Karen G. (Norfolk, MA)
    I learned a lot
    This book is long but well worth it. I feel I learned something on almost every page. When names or events were mentioned I often looked them up. All were accurate and factual. The characters were very well developed and stayed true to their given characters. There was so much detail and so much to think about. I did not realize how little I knew about Haiti but felt better that the historical and political events were familiar. Devil Makes Three is definitely worth the investment of your time.
  • Lynne Z. (San Francisco, CA)
    Nothing Has Changed After 32 Years
    "U.S. Embassy Urges All Americans to leave Haiti" - September 2023
    Ben Fountain writes a compelling and comprehensive history of Haiti, that begins in September 1991 with a violent coup - a broken country filled with political instability, mismanagement, substandard infrastructure, corruption and violence. The novel feels like it's set in 2023.

    Fountain develops a host of intriguing characters, but the main protagonist is definitely Haiti. This is such a book of place. The author's knowledge of the country is remarkable. He is able to describe everything in infinite and exquisite detail - geography, political machinery and foreign intervention, scuba diving, colonialism and racial issues, illegal arms, vodou, Kreyol and much more. Early in the novel, he writes "From the mountains came the sound of Vodou arms, faint tremolos and mutterings of the drummers." Comparing the experience to the call to prayer in Turkey, he continues, "Here the drums affected him much the same way, as a framing device that served to take you out of yourself – to lift the spirit ... while strangely, paradoxically, concentrating one's sense of self." I began copying other memorable passages, but they came with practically every page, so I had to stop. Devil Makes Three is dense with description.

    The title was perfect. It seemed like all the characters were "dealing with the devil" at some point in the story. I liked that the main characters were complex, often contradictory and involved in difficult relationships and situations. Throughout the book I felt the constant tension of being in Haiti and was always anticipating that violence was near.

    I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this one. I found some of the political content confusing, especially Audrey's involvement as a CIA agent, but the book held my interest on many levels. There was a lot packed into 531 pages. While reading, I was transported to Haiti. I must admit, I am glad to be back home.
  • Linda O. (Jacksonville, NC)
    The Devil in Haitian Life
    If the devastation caused by hurricanes and earthquakes or the political upheavals that have resulted in so much poverty and violence have stirred any empathy for the Haitian people, Devil Makes Three might be the book for you. The story begins as the 1991 coup to overthrow Aristide takes place. Almost overnight the country changes; massacres, bodies in the streets, a mayor killed and beheaded, and the beginning of major drug and arms trafficking. Some of Ben Fountain's characters you like, some you don't, and some you don't trust, but all are memorable.

    American Matt Amaker and Haitian-Canadian Alix Variel are excited that their ScubaRave business is taking off, but coup leaders need their sturdy jetty for trafficking. The guys begin treasure hunting as a means to make money, but when word gets out that they might have found gold, they are arrested and jailed by Anti-gang leaders. They are moved to the Casernes jail near the palace. Eventually Alix's release is negotiated by the Canadian government, but Matt gets nothing from the American embassy and is forced to work for Colonel Concers, one of the coup leaders.

    Shelly Graver, aka Audrey O'Donnell, aka a clandestine CIA agent, arrives at USAID and soon begins recruiting assets. One of those assets is the doctor of the local hospital. Misha Variel, Alix's sister, goes to work at Hospital Georges Laroque where her primary job is to gather patient records. Soon she suspects that Doctor Laroque is turning those records over to Shelly Graver. When she confronts him, he says that money from USAID is the only way the hospital stays open. She realizes USAID is about more than humanitarian aid and suspects that the records are going to be used as a hit list, especially as they include the political leanings of the patients.

    The role Vodou plays in the story presents a very different picture than the one shown by American media. Here it is depicted as a vibrant part of the Haitian people's lives in a very believable way.

    The degree of corruption the book reveals about American government officials, American politicians, and American businessmen is staggering. They are as much the villains in Devil Makes Three as the coup leaders. This is not a book for the fainthearted, but I found the character of the Haitian people compelling and the revelation of American involvement enlightening.

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