Can an unimaginable catastrophe bring forth a triumph of the imagination? It can and, in the case of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, has with this bright, brilliant novel.
Journalist Léger’s first novel is, all at once, a bittersweet romantic comedy of errors, a vivid evocation of a calamity’s aftereffects and a valentine to his home nation of Haiti. The calamity in question is the 2010 earthquake that ravaged the island in a manner of seconds. In the midst of the devastation, three intersecting lives arrive at a reckoning: the country’s president, who has inherited a terrible legacy from decades of tyranny and corruption; his wife, Natasha Robert, a beautiful artist who, just before the quake struck, was in a sexual clinch in the presidential palace with her former lover Alain Destinè, the dreamer/entrepreneur she dumped for the chief executive. For a while after the quake, none of the three sides of this romantic triangle is certain the others have survived, yet they carry on with their lives on and off the island. The president is shown heading north to the U.N. in search of support, moral and otherwise. He finds it from his American counterpart in a hilarious exchange that, even if it didn’t happen, should have. Alain, meanwhile, finds himself dragging a broken foot through the debris while finding other survivors and dodging thugs ordered by the president to kill him for coveting his wife. (He’s saved from a beating by an American movie star who’s helping with the recovery.) As for Natasha, she wanders the battered landscape of bodies and rubble in a daze, her personal regrets overpowered by the grace and perseverance she finds in her people, whose country’s history was fraught with despair, death and injustice even before it was changed forever by what Haitians call the “goudou-goudou” (a euphemism approximating the sounds made by the earthquake).
With shimmering, lyrical prose, Léger conjures an incisive vision of Haiti’s complex heritage, tortured soul and dauntless spirit.