The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

by Bob Shacochis


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Renowned through four award-winning books for his gritty and revelatory visions of the Caribbean, Bob Shacochis returns to occupied Haiti in The Woman Who Lost Her Soul before sweeping across time and continents to unravel tangled knots of romance, espionage, and vengeance. In riveting prose, Shacochis builds a complex and disturbing story about the coming of age of America in a pre-9/11 world.

When humanitarian lawyer Tom Harrington travels to Haiti to investigate the murder of a beautiful and seductive photojournalist, he is confronted with a dangerous landscape riddled with poverty, corruption, and voodoo. It’s the late 1990s, a time of brutal guerrilla warfare and civilian kidnappings, and everyone has secrets. The journalist, whom he knew years before as Jackie Scott, had a bigger investment in Haiti than it seemed, and to make sense of her death, Tom must plunge back into a thorny past and his complicated ties to both Jackie and Eville Burnette, a member of Special Forces who has been assigned to protect her.

From the violent, bandit-dominated terrain of World War II Dubrovnik to the exquisitely rendered Istanbul in the 1980s, Shacochis brandishes Jackie’s shadowy family history with daring agility. Caught between her first love and the unsavory attentions of her father—an elite spy and quintessential Cold War warrior pressuring his daughter to follow in his footsteps—seventeen-year-old Jackie hatches a desperate escape plan that puts her on course to becoming the soulless woman Tom equally feared and desired.

Set over fifty years and in four countries backdropped by different wars, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul is a magnum opus that brings to life, through the mystique and allure of history, an intricate portrait of catastrophic events that led up to the war on terror and the America we are today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802122759
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 07/01/2014
Pages: 736
Sales rank: 1,186,739
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Bob Shacochis’s first collection of stories, asy in the Islands , won the National Book Award for First Fiction, and his second collection, The Next New World , was awarded the Prix de Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is also the author of the novel Swimming in the Volcano , a finalist for the National Book Award, and The Immaculate Invasion , a work of literary reportage that was a finalist for The New Yorker Book Award for Best Nonfiction of the Year. Shacochis is a contributing editor at Outside , a former columnist for Gentleman’s Quarterly , and has served as a contributing editor for Harper’s and GQ. His op-eds on the US military, Haiti, and Florida politics have appeared in The New York Times , The Washington Post , and The Wall Street Journal.

Read an Excerpt


He had been home a month, after a month's assignment in the Balkans, and had just begun to reestablish himself in the routines of daily life as husband and father, enjoying the pleasant drudgery of the supermarket, cooking meals for his wife and daughter, exercising the dog at dawn on the beach, afterward the newspaper with coffee in the morning, a novel with cognac at night, videos on the weekend, all of them in the same bed, the dog wedged between like a flatulent pillow, a suburban middle-class tableau repeated endlessly in his life, and endlessly interrupted by his restlessness — the phone rings and Tom Harrington is gone. He and his wife had constructed a life in South Miami that made sense to everyone else but him, though its comforts were undeniable. In fact, they were precious, and at constant risk of going stale, so he had made them exotic novelties, these pleasures, sucked them to near depletion, then ran off to hunt the nearest white whale, that thing we need to do to keep us from our disappointment or lethargy, to jolt ourselves back to feeling. But always, inevitably, he would trudge home, and give himself over to the icing down.

A month away, a month at home, the whiplashed schedule of a humanitarian yo-yo, a perpetual routine of domestic guess who. Honey? I'm home. Maybe. Hope so. Sorry to have missed the kid's birthday.

He was sitting on a bench outside the quad of his daughter's small private school nestled within a grove of banyan trees and palms, a cigarette in his mouth, waiting for classes to end. The school offered no bus service or, rather, discontinued it when over-involved parents made the convenience superfluous, and it was Tom's duty to relieve his wife of this chore whenever he was in town. That day he was early; usually he was late. Other parents began arriving.

I never see you, someone said, a woman's voice, behind him, and he swiveled around. This woman lived in the neighborhood but worked in an office downtown for a nationwide private security firm, doing what he could not tell. She was tough and brusque and solid and it was strange to see her in a flowery dress and not in the jeans and motorcycle boots and fringed leather jacket she wore when he would bump into her in the South Beach bars. Her daughter had been the first in seventh grade to wear makeup to class; Tom's wife and daughter were still warring over lip gloss and eye shadow.

She propped her sunglasses into her streaked hair and squinted. Do you know? — and she named a man, Conrad Dolan.

Doors banged open and the children came in streams of ones and twos into the courtyard. No, he said. Was he supposed to?

Without saying why, she explained she had spoken with him a few days back, up in Tampa where he lived. A journalist had been kidnapped last month in Peru. Dolan was the hostage negotiator brought in on the case.

Harrington's interest rose. How does one become a hostage negotiator? he asked.

Twenty-one years with the Feds, fluency in Spanish and Portuguese, she said. He was private sector now, retired from the Bureau of Investigation.

One of your guys?

I wish. He works alone.

Tom had never heard of him. He did not personally know many people like this, although they were always there in the background of his world; their days were different than his, more exclusive, circumscribed by their respective loyalties and institutions. Wherever you encountered them, there was less oxygen in the room for the uninitiated. You see them around, you talk with them when you have to. You stay out of their way — they keep you out of their way.

What happened to the journalist?

Dolan got him out.

Their two daughters marched toward them, pretty faces sullen and pinched as if they had spent the day in court litigating their grievances. His at least knew to mumble a greeting before she slipped past to fling her books into the cab of his truck. The other one narrowed her eyes at them and kept walking toward the parking lot and her mother's car.

What do you suppose that's about?

Being twelve. Being girls.

Jingling her keys, she said she had to run. The sunglasses fell and locked back over her eyes. So look, she said. Can I give Dolan your number? He wants to talk to you.

Their seemingly idle conversation had taken an unexpected turn — Harrington's working days were often spent seeking out authorities or tracking witnesses, knocking on the doors of strangers in search of the texture of lives under pressure or suddenly inflated into crisis, forming ephemeral intimacies with people never quite sure of his identity beyond the fact that he was in their eyes a foreign representative of a monolithic process. Ah, he has come to find me justice. Ah, he has come to challenge my power. Ah, he has come to help. Ah, he has come to ruin me.

Why would he want to talk to me? Tom asked.

The answer was at once familiar and tedious and he thought nothing of it. Dolan loved to follow the news, he had seen Harrington's work on establishing a Truth Commission in Haiti, he liked to talk. Tom thought to himself, What was there left to talk about? After two hundred years Haiti had remained an infant and still required breast-feeding, but he said, Sure, give him the number, and they separated, each to their spoiled child, for a recitation of the day's unforgivable crimes of pubescence.

Three days later Dolan telephoned. Before Tom even had a chance to say hello, the person on the line had announced himself — Dolan here — and for a moment Tom paused, unsure of who this was. I sawr what you said about those bastards in Warshington ... It was a voice, a type of nasal tone and run-on pattern of speech, that he associated with the cinema, the urban repertoire of the eastern United States, make-believe cops and make-believe robbers, Irish heroes and Italian villains, an accent resonant of both ivy and whiskey, upward mobility and the working-class neighborhoods of South Boston. It was not a voice he could listen to without smiling and if his wife had been in the room he would have cupped the mouthpiece and held out the phone and said, Get a load of this. But the abrupt specificity of his questions made Tom tight and serious: Dolan had connected with the right source. Tom was valuable, Tom had the answers. He knew what Conrad Dolan wanted to know.

Say, what can you tell me about the condition of the Route Nationale One between Port-au-Prince and that town up the coast, what is it? Saint-Marc?

In the earliest days of the invasion, weeks before the American military ventured out onto the road they would instantly name the Highway to Hell, Route Nationale One from Port-au-Prince to its terminus on the north shore was a six-hour-long gauntlet of axle-breaking misery, slamming boredom, heat, and fear. The tarmac had been carpet bombed by neglect, its surface so pocked and corroded that only a sharp-edged webbing of the original asphalt remained, so that the highway resembled a hundred-mile strip of Swiss cheese, many of the holes the size of a child's wading pool. In September of 1994, it was empty except for macoutes and bandits, or impromptu checkpoints that provided the opportunity for extortion to gangs of boys with machetes. Regardless of its disrepair, you drove Route Nationale One at top speed to reach your destination by nightfall, for it wasn't a good place to be after the sun went down.

What else do you want to know? he asked Dolan.

The section of the road by the big quarry, across from the swamp, what the hell's the name of it?


There were stretches of the highway, especially outside of the capital along the coast, where if you focused deep and hard on the game you could rocket up to 120 kilometers per hour for five or ten minutes, slaloming around the hazards, making everybody with you carsick and terrified. Graveyards of wrecks dotted these stretches; pedestrians and livestock were occasionally killed by swerving drivers. About nine months into the occupation, a Haitian company was awarded a contract, funded by foreign aid, to resurface the highway. The requisite embezzlements ensued and a thin scab of rotten asphalt was rolled over the newly graded roadbed. Within a month, though, the pavement had festered and bubbled, the holes began to reappear where they had always been, and if you needed a quick metaphor to sketch the trajectory of American involvement in Haiti, Route Nationale One was there for your consideration.

And this other quarry. There's supposed to be another one, right?

That's right. Up the coast, on the water.

Good place to run and hide?

What do you mean?

If you're in trouble. Trying to get away from somebody.

Not really.

And what about this place on the coast, Moulin Sur Mer? asked Dolan. You ever been there?

Lovely. Clean. Expensive by any standard. Good restaurant. Ruling-class getaway. Well-connected owners. The only reliable R & R between the capital and the north coast. Are you planning a trip? Tom wondered aloud.

This Moulin Sur Mer, Dolan said. Would you say it's a nice place to vacation, you know, take your wife?

The answer was yes, within a certain twisted context of circumstance and impulse. If you had to be in Haiti, the resort was as good as any place to reinvigorate yourself. A qualified yes, if you were the sort of naive, half-cracked traveler drawn to the edge of the abyss, someone whose rum sours were that much more quenching when consumed at the panoramic center of extreme malice and human suffering. Not to be self-righteous about the attraction; Harrington had always found the sours at Moulin Sur Mer to be memorably tart and bracing when he straggled in off the road like a legionnaire from the desert. And yes, he had even taken his wife there on her brief and unpleasant visit to the island.

What else? Tom asked. What are you looking for?

I have a client, Dolan began, and out came the story.

For the third or fourth time in a year, an American couple, husband and wife, were on holidays in Haiti, booked into the Moulin Sur Mer. That can't be right, Tom thought. Undoubtedly the man had business in Haiti and for some reason kept inviting his wife along, or she refused to be left behind. Perhaps she was an art collector, or perhaps a nurse, someone with a skill to share, an altruistic streak.

The couple checked out of the resort late on a Saturday afternoon, Dolan continued, put their luggage in the sports utility vehicle they had rented for the week, and began the hour-and-a-half drive to the airport in the capital to board a return flight to Miami and on to Tampa, where they lived. At some point along the road south of the hotel — Conrad Dolan was imprecise about the location although he named the second quarry as a landmark — the man slowed the vehicle to a crawl to maneuver through a series of potholes. By now the sun had set, and although it was dark, very dark, and the road seemed empty, without headlights in either direction, the couple was overtaken from behind by two men on a motorbike who, after blurring past the SUV, swung sharply in front of it, stopped in a blocking position, and hopped off. The husband attempted to steer around them but the shoulder seemed to drop away and somehow he had trouble with the manual transmission and stalled the vehicle. What happened next was unclear, except for the results.

The men had guns. Dolan's client was pulled from the driver's seat and pistol-whipped, and although he never lost consciousness he had the sense knocked out of him and scrambled away into the darkness on the opposite side of the road, finally crashing into a boulder and slipping down to hide, bleeding profusely from a wound in his forehead. A gun had been fired several times, he assumed at him, to prevent his escape. When he regained his senses and came out from behind the rock, the SUV and the motorcycle were gone, and at first he couldn't find his wife but then he stepped on her where she lay on the shoulder of the road, faceup, shot to death.

Disoriented, the man stumbled around until finally a car came up the road from the direction of Port-au-Prince and he flagged it down. As luck would have it, the driver turned out to be a staffer from the American embassy who used his cell phone to dial the local emergency number and the response was unexpectedly quick; before long a pickup truck carrying uniformed officers from the police station in Saint-Marc arrived on the scene. The police spent a few minutes glancing around with flashlights, asked the man some basic questions using the embassy staffer as translator, and then put the body in the bed of the pickup truck and drove off, telling him to wait there because someone else was coming to ask more questions. Some time later, another car arrived from the direction of Port-au-Prince, driven by a detective from the National Police Headquarters.

Conrad Dolan paused in his narrative and Tom took advantage of the moment to ask him the obvious question: Why was this unfortunate man, clearly the victim of assault and robbery, his client?

I'm closing in on that, said Dolan. Assault, yes. Robbery, no. Would you say, he asked, that such incidents are commonplace in Haiti?

Aid workers, missionaries, the rare tourist — the ambushes weren't everyday occurrences by any means, but they happened. The roads were dangerous. You stayed alert, practiced prudence, of course, and hoped you were lucky.

Okay, said Dolan, and continued. The detective from Port-au-Prince was fairly vexed that the body had been spirited away to the Saint-Marc station before he could survey the crime scene, an examination he performed hastily because there was nothing left to see other than a blot of jellied blood in the dirt by the side of the road.

Although the detective only spoke Kreyol, the embassy staffer, who was headed north with his wife to spend their Sunday on the beach at Moulin Sur Mer, expressed his sympathy to the client, gave him his card, and left. The husband's skull was pounding, he felt numb, dazed, and when the detective opened the passenger door for him he climbed in and slumped into the seat, never saying a word during the ride south to Port-au-Prince, never hearing a word he could understand. The detective took him to a police station near the airport, sat him down at a table in a room, and left him there alone. A while later another detective came in, a guy who had lived in Brooklyn and spoke English. He gave the husband a wet rag to wipe his face, water to drink, and talked to him for about ten minutes — standard procedure, predictable questions — but the man was distraught, his head was not clear, and his answers were not helpful. The detective asked if he wanted to see a physician. The man said no. Okay, the detective said, I'm sending you to the Hotel Montana for the night but I want you to return in the morning to make a full report.

The manager of the hotel and her staff were shocked by the man's condition and saddened to learn the fate of his wife, and they treated him with exceptional kindness, summoning a doctor to stitch up the gash above his right eye, finding him clean clothes and toiletries for the night, sending a meal to his room. In the morning the manager called the room to say that a car was waiting for him downstairs to take him back to the police station and that she had asked the hotel's accountant to accompany him, to serve as his interpreter.

At the police station, he was met by the same detective who'd driven him back to the city the night before and was informed that his rental car had been found abandoned on the edge of Tintayen and impounded in a lot behind the building. He was also told that he and his wife's possessions — their luggage, jewelry, laptop computer, cell phone, camera — had also been recovered from the car but could not be released back to him until he had signed the statement he had made the previous night in the station. The client said he couldn't remember what he had said last night but okay, give it to him to sign, but the detective said no, not yet possible, it was still being translated from English into Kreyol and French.

In the meantime the detective asked that he come along to the impoundment lot, where he was shown the SUV and told to get back in the car and drive it to the crime scene for a reenactment of the event. The SUV had a bullet hole through the passenger's window, its seats were splashed with blood, and the client refused, offering to drive any other car than this one, stinking with the smell of his wife's death, back north on Route Nationale One. They returned to the station and the accountant, who had been translating the conversation, was told by the detective to leave.


Excerpted from "The Woman Who Lost Her Soul"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Bob Shacochis.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Woman Who Lost Her Soul 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could really get into it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So disappointed. A truly ridiculous tale about genuinely horrible people.  Making it even more unbearable is the principal setting, Haiti, which Sachocis paints as a true hell-on-Earth.  If you are looking for a well scripted adventure, look elsewhere. 
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A materpiece well worth the wait rendered in a luscious language as true litterature should.