Book Review: The Big Truck That Went By

On December 6, 2013 by Eric

Big_Truck_That_Went_ByWorking in Haiti, you hear the same questions time and time again…

Are they still recovering from the earthquake?

It’s been years since the earthquake, why aren’t things any better?

We sent all that money to fix Haiti, where did it go?

Though I hear these questions often, I don’t grow tired of answering them. These are questions I asked myself when I first started working in Haiti. Before traveling there in March 2012, I was like so many other people in that most of what I knew about Haiti came from what I remembered hearing in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake.

So, in search of answers, I did what any twenty-something American would do–I went to Amazon, searched in books for Haiti, and sorted by most popular. As you can tell, I’ve got some top notch research skills.

I bought several books that day, and will be reviewing many of them in the months to come, but I wanted to start with one of the more recently published titles:

The Big Truck That Went By – How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, by Jonathan Katz.

Big Truck That Went ByEncouraging title, don’t you think? Really grabs your attention.

The “big truck” in the title is a reference to the sound the earthquake made, which Katz initially thought to be one of the big water trucks that would frequently pass by his house in Petionville (which, interestingly enough, are the same water trucks Bethany also heard during her initial stay in Haiti).

If you don’t keep up with the goings on in Haiti, you’ve probably never heard of Jonathan Katz. That being said, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve heard some of his reporting. He was the only embedded AP journalist in Haiti when the earthquake hit, and was the first to break the story the night the earthquake happened.

So, depending on your perspective, he was either in right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time.

Either way, Katz remained in Haiti and continued to investigate and report major events that occurred in the year after the earthquake. And that’s what I found most interesting about the book itself–not necessarily the retelling of the days following the disaster, but how it became the central event on which  many other stories hinged:

  • How the only golf course in Haiti became a camp for displaced persons (and what Sean Penn had to do with relocating those people)
  • The cholera outbreak that has now infected nearly 700,000 people (whose source, ironically enough, was traced back to a Nepali U.N. base)
  • A delayed presidential election (and how it was won by a local kompa music star in a nail-biting finish)
  • The distribution of relief money that went mostly to non-Haitian organizations and spent anywhere but Haiti (or nowhere at all)

Amidst the reporting of who did what, when, and why, Katz does a fantastic job of sprinkling in pieces of his own story, complete with his account when the earthquake hit, a step by step retelling of his investigation into the cholera outbreak and–wait for it ladies–a bit of his own personal love story.

If you’re interested in knowing what happened in the months following the earthquake, particularly with regard to where the money went that was pledged for the recovery, I would encourage you to pick up a copy of The Big Truck That Went By. If  if you’re up for some bonus material, here’s a talk by Katz that Bethany and I were able to attend at the Clinton School of Public Service earlier in 2013.

So if you’re looking for a great read on post-earthquake Haiti, or especially if you’re planning a trip to Haiti in the near future, I highly recommend giving it a read!

Check back next month for my review on Wrecked, When a Broken World Slams Into Your Comfortable Life by Jeff Goins.

-Eric

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