"The Boiling Season" (Harper), by Christopher Hebert
Allegories about the morality of international-development projects are rarely as subtle and lyrical as Christopher Hebert's debut novel, "The Boiling Season."
The novel is set on an unnamed Caribbean island, but it's hard to read the story as taking place anywhere other than Haiti. The wealthy live behind walls on a protected hillside, literally looking down at the capital's teeming slums below. Political careers are built on money and brutality, and the island's racial divide is the lingering legacy of colonial rule.
Seeking refuge from the country's many upheavals is Alexandre, a naive young man whose sole ambition is to leave the slums. He first gains access to the world of privilege as the valet to an important senator, and he then uses those connections to secure the position of caretaker of a neglected estate even farther up into the mountains. Busily transforming the estate into an opulent resort for a wealthy American businesswoman, Alexandre chooses not to see the civil war brewing just beyond his gates.
Madame Freeman, as Alexandre calls the businesswoman, spends a lot of time and money molding the estate into what she thinks the island needs while she isolates herself from the island's politics. When a sprawling shantytown pops up in the surrounding fields, she paints the structures closest to the road in bright colors to disguise their poverty from her guests.
As it becomes clear that she cannot control what's happening beyond her walls, she abandons the estate, leaving Alexandre ill-prepared to face the people he has tried to escape all his life.
In "The Boiling Season," those who seek to impose order on what they perceive as chaos are as vulnerable to corruption as the system they promised to change.