A Haitian immigrant recounts her struggles to find happiness in the United States.
In this historical novel, Fortune tells an immigration story through the eyes of Cynthia Josaphat, a Haitian girl sent to live with her father in Massachusetts as a teen. Cynthia, along with her siblings Sheila and Paul, moves in with her father, Michel, called Micho. He is both determined to have his children with him and neglectful of them, often to an abusive degree (“All three of us were breaking down in the house,” Cynthia says at one point). Cynthia grapples with learning English and adapting to life in a new country as well as Micho’s unreasonable expectations. She also misses her mother and her extended family in Haiti. After her mother’s death, Cynthia finds that her relationship with Micho deteriorates further. She begins to fend for herself, living with friends and relatives in Massachusetts and Georgia while trying to finish school, keep a job, and handle bouts of depression. Cynthia moves from place to place and from one bad relationship to another, dealing with the challenges of poverty and trying to balance her needs against the expectation that she will make a better life for herself in the U.S. than she could have in Haiti. Cynthia’s distant, first-person narration gives a retrospective feel to the text. “Georgia was a tough place to try to find work back then,” she explains, “that was before digital video disks (DVDs) and the internet were popular” is another clue to the never precisely defined era the tale takes place in. This approach often leaves the book feeling more like a memoir than a novel. But Fortune does an excellent job of worldbuilding, bringing the story’s multiple settings to life and conveying the stress and confusion Cynthia feels as she tries to navigate challenging situations made more difficult by the cultural context she finds herself in. Cynthia’s ultimate triumph, delivered in an epilogue, is satisfying.
A solid, if occasionally uneven, cross-cultural coming-of-age tale.