Monday, October 24, 2011

Ayiti, 51/100

Was really happy to receive Roxane Gay's debut collection Ayiti a few days ago in the mail, after pre-ordering it months ago. And can I mention just how much I love getting books in the mail? I spend a good portion of my work day opening interlibrary loan packages, and then come home and open some more that are just for me. Anything that comes directly from the publisher are always the best, packed with goodies and bookmarks. Bookmooch packages are great too, especially when they include little personal notes and books with marginalia. I should probably go outside sometime.

Gay's book is a collection of short fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, all representing experiences of the Haitian diaspora. Most readers coming to this book won't know much about Haiti or its people, besides the fact that it is a devastatingly poor country. "We are defined by what we are not and what we do not have." The stories are presented honestly--not sugar-coating the poverty and hardships of its characters--but also avoiding using gimmicky sob stories (although I did sob in at least one of the stories).

One of my favorite shorts, "There is No 'E' in Zombi Which Means There Can Be No You Or We," is a zombi(e) "love story." Or could it be classified as zombie erotica? Either way, it's not whatever you're picturing. As Gay emphasizes in the beginning under the headline [Things Americans do not know about zombis:], "They are not dead. They are near death." No necrophilia here.

My other favorite, "In the Manner of Water or Light," is devastating and beautiful. Narrated by a second generation immigrant, it tells the story of how her mother was conceived during the 1937 massacre of Haitian people by the Dominican Republic. The mystery and romance surrounding her grandfather, encouraged by the grandmother, shows the lengths we go to to protect ourselves from tragedy and the truth. Even when it means crossing an ocean.

From "All Things Being Relative"
My parents were born in Haiti, the first free black nation in the world.

It is an island of contradictions.

The sand is always warm. The water is so clear blue bright that is sometimes painful to behold. The art and music are rich, textured, revelatory, ecstatic. The sugar cane is raw and sweet.

And yet. What most people know is this--Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Her people eat mud cakes. There is no infrastructure--no sewer system, no reliable roads, erratic electricity. Women are not safe. Disease cannot be cured. Violence cannot be quelled. The land is eroding. The sky is falling.

Freedom, it seems, has a price. We are defined by what we are not and what we do not have.

You should also check out Roxane Gay's blog I Have Become Accustomed to Rejection, where she writes some of the funniest movie reviews on the internet.

She also contributes to Bookslut and HTMLGiant; two of my favorite favorites.

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