Hertford writer takes a look at Haiti

Published 9:19 pm Thursday, March 10, 2016

By Frank Roberts

“The body travels with us for only a short journey, while the soul travels for eternity.” Chris Kohler.

This Hertford, N.C., resident is a man of accomplishment — a professor of zoology, author of two books about inland fisheries, frequent visitor to Haiti and, most recently, the man who wrote about that country in a fact-fiction story, “Cracked Island.”

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He has visited that impoverished, colorful and mystical country several times, he has studied it, he knows its inhabitants, and he knows the misery and the culture of the country.

“Hopefully, I have managed to capture some of the pride, color and mysticism that are the fabric of Haiti,” he said. “I’ve been in Haiti off and on — a month here and a month there — over several years,” said Kohler, who has a master’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico, and a master’s in marine science fisheries from Virginia Tech.

Good news for Kohler enthusiasts. “Another book is on the way — multi-culture suspense. It takes place in the Virgin Islands,” he told me during an interview. The current book is being sold by Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Kohler was born in Heidelberg, when his father was stationed there. He and his wife Charlee Sue live in the Albemarle Plantation, a Perquimans County community. He is hardly a retiree. He still edits the North American Journal of Aquaculture, a bi-monthly scientific publication. “That keeps me involved,” the former teacher said.

Yes, he does a lot of writing, but not on the computer. “Everything is written in long hand, but I do edit on a computer,” he said.

Kohler will soon have a lot more to write about. Planned trips include visits to Buenos Aires and Antarctica. He has little time for hobbies. If there is one, it’s golf. “I have a high handicap.”

When he travels, he observes, and much of what he has seen in Haiti makes up the story of “Cracked Island.”

“There was a 60-pound girl, about 13, carrying three cinder blocks atop her head, and she was walking uphill,” he recalls of one trip. “Everybody carries stuff on their heads. They have perfect postures.”

What he has observed in Haiti is not novel, but it made an exciting novel. In quick summary it concerns Tim James — drunk and miserable. He hates Haiti, blaming the country for his misery. Along comes Vinny Berkowitz, a “bogus” attorney who convinces Mr. Miserable to pose as an anthropologist to help unearth some pre-Colombian, golden artifacts.

Berkowitz ensnares the help of Madeleine McCoy, “an attractive missionary nurse.” Getting in on the act is a peasant farmer. Those are some of the fascinating characters. The locations include dense jungles, voodoo temples and an ancient burial cave.

It all looks juicy, and our hero begins to like Haiti, and he begins to like the nurse, and vice-versa. Meanwhile, the lies, and the suspense, mount. It all happens amidst exotic surroundings, with wry humor easing the tension.

And there is an earthquake.

“It’s my hope,” he writes, “that readers who have never witnessed absolute poverty will have more empathy for the gentle and proud people who go about their lives with all the emotions, hopes and fears as you and I.”

The author notes that the book’s title, “Cracked Island,” is a metaphor for the earthquake and, in a way, for the island nation and the people who are shattered in so many ways.

To find out more about the book visit www.keithpublications.com.

A personal note: Thanks to my lovely daughter, Jennifer Mercer, for introducing me to Chris.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.