Keen observation, incisive analysis and passionate engagement mark this author’s account of the 2010 earthquake that devastated his native Haiti.
Through vignettes that range from a paragraph to a couple of pages, novelist Laferrière (I Am a Japanese Writer, 2011, etc.) delivers a knockout punch through prose favoring matter-of-fact understatement over sentimental histrionics. A literary festival brought him back from French-speaking Canada, where he emigrated to establish himself as a writer, to the homeland where his mother and much of his family still lives. He ordered dinner at a restaurant and then heard what sounded like a machine gun, a train or an explosion. It intensified: “The earth started shaking like a sheet of paper whipped by the wind. The low roar of buildings falling to their knees. They didn’t explode; they imploded, trapping people inside their bellies.” The author is no journalist, and he engages in none of what would conventionally be called reporting. Instead, he describes what he saw, how it felt and what it meant. For those who survived, the aftershocks continued: natural, personal, political, cultural. Laferrière is particularly sharp on the ambiguous motives and ambivalent effects of humanitarian charity and celebrities who helped keep the world’s spotlight on Haiti (and, of course, themselves), until attention turned to the next world calamity. The framing is particularly strong, beginning with vivid detail of the experience itself, culminating in a multileveled meditation on what it means to be Haitian, to be a survivor, to be a writer, to be alive. “We say January 12 here the way they say September 11 in other places,” he writes of the cataclysm most vividly experienced at street level, which is where this memoir operates.
Nonfiction with the resonance of literary fiction and the impact of real tragedy.