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"What I have witnessed, I have no tongue to tell," says one of the 38 Haitian women who express themselves here. A lyrical but trenchant foreword by Edwidge Danticat and succinct author introductions by Bell (director of Albuquerque's Center for Economic Justice) provide historical and personal contexts for the narratives, or "istwa" (a Creole word "meaning both story and history"), that follow. Many of the women address the random arrests, sadistic torture, savage beatings and violent sexual abuse inflicted upon them by the state and by a sexist social structure. Taken collectively, the women (interviewed largely between 1991 and 1994, during Haiti's brief period with a popularly elected government) tell the same story "survival, resistance, and occasional triumph by women with little formal power." Individually, each voice is unique. One has been a minister of the Status and Rights of Women; another was given away as a child slave. There's also a market woman, a labor organizer and a nurse; a woman with graduate degrees, women who have lived abroad and women who have never left their villages. They are joined by their resistance to oppression. For some, mere survival is an act of resistance. Others resist through poetry, journalism, dance or painting. Some are even involved in political activism, women's advocacy and reestablishing economic and political structures. This is painful reading; it shows much suffering but also much remarkable transcendence. Bell's book vocalizes this, but its point is not merely archival. These testimonies are meant to move readers to action. "I want to make the big ears listen," says Lelenne Gilles. "I'll die with the words on my lips."
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