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Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Dew Breaker

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The Dew Breaker

by Edwidge Danticat

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat X
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2004, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2005, 256 pages

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Poor Haiti! Columbus found the island in 1492 and named it Hispanola. Before long the native Arawak Indians were virtually extinct (Hayti means mountainous land in the Arawak language). By the mid-17th Century Haiti was colonized by the French and was a productive source of cocoa, cotton, sugar cane and coffee. Demand for products created demand for inexpensive labor so slaves were imported from West Africa. By the late 18th century Haiti was one of the wealthiest regions in the world and a comfortable place to be for the lucky few at the top of the Haitian tree. However the problems that still effect Haiti today were brewing. The slaves had brought with them the practice of voodoo which clashed with Catholicism, the French were exceptionally harsh in their treatment of their slaves, creating hatred from an already simmering environment. Lastly, a class of mulattos arose from the offspring of slaves and slave owners creating a class system that is still present today - the majority of Haitians are dark-skinned, voodoo worshiping Creoles, and a minority are light skinned, Catholic, French speakers.

The slaves ousted Napoleon in 1804, following a revolt that began in 1791, creating the first black independent nation. Last year Haiti celebrated 200 years of independence. However, an almost continuous stream of dictators have left a legacy of poverty and violence. In 1844 the island split in two with the larger eastern part becoming the Dominican Republic. The third of the island that remained Haiti is smaller than the state of Maryland.

Today Haiti has the dubious honor of being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a population of 7.5 million, an infant mortality rate of 74/1,000 and a median age of 18 years.

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