J. Elliott Reviews “Mangoes & Roosters: Stories and Tales of Haiti”


Cynthia and I were booth buddies at the recent Sunshine State Book Festival. When she said she was giving away a few copies of her latest book, I snatched one up and begged her to sign it.

When Cynthia said she was writing stories about Haiti, I really didn’t know what to expect, though it was sure to be an uncomfortable read. Do not be deceived by this slim volume, it packs a mean punch!

Bertelsen has won several awards for her food-related books; she has stepped away from non-fiction before with In the Shadow of Ravens, a historical fiction novel about witches. All excellent.

But this—this! Mangoes and Roosters recalls the writing style of Edgar Lee Masters and Spoon River Anthology, telling a story of a culture through micro-fiction vignettes, a few scant pages for characters like The Artist, The Thief, The Beggar, The Ex-Pat, The Priest, The Landlady, (my favorite, The Houngan (witch doctor)) and more.

Sharp. Visceral. Desperate. Vivid. Fascinating. Terrifying.

Were this a novel, I would not have made it halfway—too much to take on. Too heartbreaking. Too heavy and grim. But written in little postcard glimpses, the reader is sucked in and spat out, and while shocked or saddened or horror-struck, compelled to read the next one. And the next. Because there are twists and surprises all the way, and the writing is sharp and colorful. To use a cooking metaphor: You hold a knife ever-so-sharp, gleaming, firm. It feels natural in your hand. Perfectly weighted. You are one with the knife. You chop along with ease. You don’t realize you’ve cut yourself at first. Then the blood comes. Colorful. Deep.

I sure hope she’s sent this off to various awards because this one ought to sweep them up. She’s outdone herself here.

~ J. Elliott


Review used with permission. Please check out J. Elliott’s writing on her Amazon page or her website. Like ghosts, mysteries, and humor? You can’t go wrong there.