Novel's odyssey comes full circle for Chambersburg family

March 26, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A young couple escapes New York during the Great Depression for a new life in Haiti, but find their lives entwined in that island's foreign social cliques, insurrection and voodoo before having to make another escape.

That is the plot of "Dark Odyssey," a novel by Ruth Francoise Harrison, published posthumously by her family. The book borrows from her parents' experiences in the Caribbean nation where Harrison was born, said her husband, Robert Harrison.

Harrison, of Chambersburg, said he and one of their daughters, Emily Harrison Weir, "put the book together from a pile of manuscripts Ruth left behind." His wife worked on the book for several years before her death in October 2005, leaving behind a 144,000-word, 345-page story.

"She was always improving it. ... We didn't change a word," Harrison said of his late wife's story.

The daughter of Bill and Pauline Juillerat, Ruth Harrison was born in Port-au-Prince, where her father, who spoke French, took a job teaching industrial arts. During their year on the island, Haiti experienced one of its many insurrections, Harrison said.


The couple in the book, Jon and Carolyn Martin, share all of that with the Juillerats, but many of the Martins' adventures - such as Jon's kidnapping by rebels and a chauffeur driving through a mob and smashing an iron gate to get a very pregnant Carolyn to the hospital - are fiction.

"There's a lot of real life in the book ... but it's definitely a novel," Harrison said. One resource Ruth Harrison relied on was the diary her mother kept during that period, he said.

"It's a pretty exciting book. There's a lot of things in there people would enjoy," Harrison said.

The Harrisons traveled extensively during their more than a half-century together, and he said he has been to 37 countries. Ironically, considering she was born there, the couple never traveled to Haiti, the retired banker said.

After their year in Haiti, Ruth Harrison and her parents returned to New York City. She graduated from Wilson College in Chambersburg, where she met Robert, who was attending the women's college on the G.I. Bill.

"When I got out of the Navy, they took 23 men," said Harrison, noting that there were 450 women enrolled. The couple has two daughters, Emily and Sue.

Ruth Harrison went on to become a French and English teacher in the Chambersburg school system. She was also a writer whose articles, poems and essays were published in books, newspapers and magazines, he said.

How to buy it

Copies of "Dark Odyssey" can be purchased from Xlibris Corp. online at, or by calling 888-795-4274, ext. 479. Ask for book ID 38612, trade paperback ISBN (10) 978-1-4257-4956-9.

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