This book is incredibly important for several reasons. First, it’s about one of the worst natural disasters of the decade. Second, it’s an in-depth look at Haiti, told by one of her native sons. With one out of every twenty Haitians resides in the US, (Migration Information Source; http://www.migrationinformation.org/usfocus/display.cfm?id=770) let’s just say it’s a relevant culture. (My children’s elementary school announcements were actually made in both English and Creole.) Third, its narrative structure is outside the box. Let me elaborate.
Imagine Haiti, after the earthquake of 2010. Shorty is a teenage boy, trapped under a collapsed building in that country. Alone and in total darkness, Shorty lapses in and out of consciousness as he reflects on his life as a drug runner for rap star Biggie. Part truth, part fantastic fiction, a picture emerges of a boy, held captive not only by stone and earth, but also by the history of his troubled culture. The book moves back and forth in time from Shorty’s first-person account of his childhood in Site Soley, the major Haitian slum in Port au Prince, run by thugs and drug runners, to a third-person narrative of revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led an actual slave revolt in Haiti in the 18th century. Their stories alternate by chapters, Shorty’s street slang and rap lyrics contrasting sharply with the slightly academic and detached manner of L’Ouverture’s story. L’Ouverture loves his beautiful country, despite his enslavement, and describes her landscape in voluptuous terms. Yet voodoo and violence abound in both realities; for example, L’Overture attends a ceremony to invoke possession by dead spirits, and Shorty sees his own father killed. As he sleeps, possibly dying beneath the rubble, the boy dreams he is the black revolutionary, while L’Ourverture himself dreams of flying as a young boy into a future Haiti, free from slavery, but lying in the ruins of some great natural disaster. The two share a single soul, and their intertwined destinies paint a dark and trembling portrait of a country relegated through the centuries to brutality and neglect. Other actual people pepper the story with life, such as the popular local leader Dread Wilme, who was shot down by UN forces for real in 2005. While the transition between the two narratives is not always smooth, the book is incredibly powerful. Lake clarifies what is real and what is not, with an Author’s Note at the end, and gives further resources for information and assistance. Readers will certainly come away with an authentic and deep cultural awareness, more than any factual account of the natural disaster could ever achieve. While the raw depictions of violence and black magic make the book inappropriate for younger grades, it is sure to enlighten many teens, young adults, and anyone who cares about global understanding. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012. Don’t miss it!