Nonfiction with the resonance of literary fiction and the impact of real tragedy.

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.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55152-498-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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