What can literature tell us about the tragedies in Haiti and Chile?

Ruth Franklin in The New Republic:

Chile6 Heinrich von Kleist’s famous story “The Earthquake in Chile” is set in Santiago in 1647. A young Carmelite nun named Josephe, condemned to death for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, is about to be beheaded. Across town, her lover, Jeronimo Rugera, is preparing to hang himself in the prison where he has been incarcerated. Just as the bells announcing Josephe’s imminent execution begin to toll, a gigantic earthquake strikes: We now know that it measured around 8.5 on the Richter scale, just a little less than the recent 8.8 quake. The pillar on which Jeronimo was to hang himself becomes his support, and he escapes as the building collapses around him. His beloved, saved by the same “heavenly miracle,” finds him in the countryside, where the refugees from the city have gathered. (This quotation and the others come from Peter Wortsman’s new translation of Kleist’s Selected Prose, just out in an attractive new edition from Archipelago Books.) The same townspeople who earlier that day had gathered to watch Josephe’s execution now greet the pair with warmth and compassion. Had the past, they wonder, only been a bad dream? The earthquake seems to have acted as a great leveler, erasing the previous divisions of class and piety…

More here.