2010! A new year, a new decade…a time for optimism and hope. But in Haiti on January 12, 2010, a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake ripped and clawed any vestiges of optimistic aspirations Haitians might have had for the new decade, killing between 250,000 and 300,000 people and injuring and displacing millions more.
I am not a fan of ‘trauma porn’, but Haitian-Canadian writer Myriam J. A. Chancy’s book What Storm, What Thunder brilliantly and compassionately tells the story of how the events unfolded that day and in the days that followed through the eyes of ten different but interconnected people: some perspectives from the day of the devastation and some from days, weeks, months later in Haiti and around the world.
This is not an easy read as most of us can’t conceive of the kind of devastation and destruction Haitians endured then, and to a great extent, continue to experience today. Chancy’s characters are born from the stories told to her by survivors in the months and years that followed that horrific day.
Ma Lou, an elderly and seemingly simple market woman, is the pillar on which these stories are told. Seemingly uneducated, she holds the history of Haiti in her memories and is beholden to no one’s adulterated version of her country or its people. We read about Sara and Oliviera’s touching love story and the family they created. We are introduced to a Haitian cab-driver in Boston who is dealing with racism and isolation and we feel his helplessness when he learns of his country’s torment. A wealthy businessman who has come to Haiti to monetize their water, his estranged daughter, a drug pusher, and a sex-worker all add to the palette of characters Chancy draws upon to tell this beautifully heartbreaking story.
I won’t lie to you… this Featured Read is not an easy one, but it also has its moments of joy, optimism, rebirth.