Ayiti by Roxane Gay: Love,Pain and the Haitian-American Experience.
Blurb: The debut collection from the vibrant voice of Roxane Gay is a unique blend of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, all interwoven to represent the Haitian diaspora experience.
“The waters did not run deep. It was just a border between two geographies of grief.”
Ayiti is Roxane Gay’s debut collection first published in 2011.
This collection made up of 15 stories encapsulates love, grief, violation, the Haitian-American dream and the recurrent theme of pain interwoven in these stories.
The opening story “Motherfucker” depicts the Haitian American experience of a child whose family just immigrated while the closing story “A cool, dry place” dwells on the Haitian American dream of a couple in search for greener pastures.
Her story ” Sweet on the tongue” seems to be the foundation of her novel “An untamed state” where a woman visiting Haiti is kidnapped and the aftermath of this trauma is explored. My personal favourite in this collection is “In the manner of water and light’ which explores the psychological effect of a Haitian massacre through 3 generations of women, causing one of them to be hounded by the scent of blood. Roxane carefully walks us through their grief and eventual healing. “Of Ghosts and shadows” gives us a peek into the politics of a forbidden lesbian relationship in Haiti, you cannot help but feel the sadness of these women who love each other and are forced to only show affection in hidden spaces. Narrated by Marié Françoise, one half of the pair, she compares her and her lover to ghosts and shadows:
“For now we are women who don’t exist. We are less than shadows, more than ghost…the women people ignore because two women loving each other is an American thing”
A line in this story evokes the message I see:
“…a group of young, angry men walking toward us. i doubt that there is any particular reason for their anger. It is the anger that most men feel these days; they are angry about their impotence and their desires and their reality. it is an anger we all feel.”
What I find most remarkable is how much of a punch each of these stories carry, in spite of how short they are (“What you need to know about a haitian woman”has 14 lines.)
Roxane Gay’s writing remains lucid and her characters are well rounded, she doesn’t leave you on a cliff.
From the trials of immigration to a spurned lover who has to depend on voodoo to keep her love, Roxane lays bare the trauma of the Haitian people and the effects of the unrest the country has been plagued with. Lucien’s father in “Cheap,fast, filling” where she also explores the Haitian American experience says ‘Haiti is a country with seven million dictators.” At the same time, she let us see that there’s so much more to this place than the narrative of the American tourists and media in stories like Cheap fast and filing, The harder they come,The dirt we do not eat, and Gracias Nicaragua y lo sentimos.
In her acknowledgements, she states “I write about Haiti and the Haitian American experience from a place of great privilege but also a place of great pride.”
This is definitely one of my favourite reads this year. When a book makes you pause to reflect, it has left a mark. If you are looking for a short book which would still hit all the right spots,this is it.
TRIGGER WARNING: Sweet on the Tongue deals on rape.
***Thank you to #Netgalley and #Groveatlantic for a digital copy of this book.