Hadden Memoir Serves as Timely Reminder of Worlds South of the Border

Lee Polevoi

Never the Hope Itself: Love and Ghosts in Latin America and Haiti

Gerry Hadden

343 pages, Harper Perennial

 

Yet another looming casualty of the Information Age is the iconic roving foreign correspondent.  These days, when any clown with a cell phone can capture footage of streets riots in Cairo and Tripoli,  the events themselves—often stripped of all context—become just the latest media blips in a never-ending parade of near-meaningless “news stories.”  In Never the Hope Itself: Love and Ghosts in Latin America and Haiti, ex-National Public Radio correspondent Gerry Hadden offers a welcome corrective to this trend, as well as a reminder that turbulence in these regions is nothing new. 

 

In the early years of this new century, Hadden abandoned a planned three-year Buddhist meditative retreat when the opportunity came to report for NPR on events in Mexico, Latin America and Haiti.  As he recalls in this earnestly written memoir, it was the chance of a lifetime—and he seized it.

 

Gun-smuggling, government corruption, natural disasters and the tumultuous stuff of everyday life fueled Hadden’s accounts to NPR audiences in the U.S.  There was never a lack of subjects to report on.  But he also found time to experience “all sorts of arcane traditions and bizarre rituals,” such as a 2:00 a.m. ceremony in a Voodoo temple somewhere in the hills of Haiti:

 

Then the circle opened again and a man dressed in billowy red silk pants and a red shirt slid past us.  His head was wrapped in red cloth.  He held a machete loosely in one hand, in the other a length of rope tethered to a very nervous goat.  The man danced about in a forceful manner, striking the machete against the hard earth, switching direction, writing, leaping, all the while hauling his reluctant dance partner along … For a moment in the yellow, unreliable light he seemed like a man transformed—half here, half purchased among his deceased kin in some eternal Diaspora.

 

 In moments like these, Never the Hope Itself offers up a glimpse of worlds hidden from view for most of us.  Hadden investigates living conditions of grotesque poverty and deprivation, and doesn’t flinch in his determination to chase after news stories (tracking down gun-runners on the border between Panama and Columbia) that put his own life in peril.  He also shares accounts of emotional turbulence in his personal life, such as living in a haunted house in Mexico City and the pursuit of the love of his life.

 

It’s an unfortunate side-effect of accelerating events in the world today that a memoir set just before and after September 11th can have the feel at times of another century.  This isn’t Hadden’s fault by any means.  But the political upheaval and tragic natural disasters he recounts have been rapidly overtaken by fresh global horrors—Haiti’s cataclysmic 2010 earthquake, the unimaginable scale of drug-related violence in Mexico, the hurricanes that sweep through the Caribbean and demolish all in their paths, year after year.  

 

As we stagger through scorched-earth presidential politics and global economic chaos, Never the Hope Itself reminds us of worlds south of the border where life on the edge is nothing shocking or unusual, just an everyday occurrence.

 

Author Bio:

Lee Polevoi is the author of a novel, The Moon in Deep Winter, and is currently completing a new novel.

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