Told in a chorus of compelling and diverse voices: a dirge for a small island wrenched apart by a powerful earthquake.
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Why I love it
While reading Myriam Chancy’s propulsive gorgeous novel, What Storm, What Thunder I was reminded of a younger self, before I even knew I was a writer, when books were rafts that buoyed me during a time in my life when the world felt unsafe and unpredictable. I read the book voraciously. I looked up and hadn’t realized how many hours had passed.
Chancy dives deeply into the interior lives of her characters, giving us a stunningly intimate window of how they were affected by an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude that shook the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. The novel switches from different points of view illustrating the interconnected web between community and nature in Haiti. She writes about them with great care—they who stood on “the earth” when it “rippled like a carpet heaving." They who saw how within seconds, "the houses fell to the ground.” They who survived the earthquake to start “the work of trying to save the dying and move the dead.” They who realize, “that those who died may have been unclaimed, their remains abandoned of necessity, but never, never, were they unloved.”
To say that this novel is timely is an understatement. Recently Haiti was struck with another devastating earthquake that killed over 2000 people and injured over ten thousand. Like many of the books I love, Chancy’s novel compels us not to turn away but instead to try and understand how what happens in Haiti and on our borders should matter to us all.
Read this book! Chancy is a magnificent storyteller. I tell you, the prose, like the best of music, transports. The characters stayed with me long after I stopped reading the book. I am both haunted and inspired by their courage and resilience.
At the end of a long, sweltering day, as markets and businesses begin to close for the evening, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude shakes the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. Award-winning author Myriam J. A. Chancy masterfully charts the inner lives of the characters affected by the disaster—Richard, an expat and wealthy water-bottling executive with a secret daughter; the daughter, Anne, an architect who drafts affordable housing structures for a global NGO; a small-time drug trafficker, Leopold, who pines for a beautiful call girl; Sonia and her business partner, Dieudonné, who are followed by a man they believe is the vodou spirit of death; Didier, an emigrant musician who drives a taxi in Boston; Sara, a mother haunted by the ghosts of her children in an IDP camp; her husband, Olivier, an accountant forced to abandon the wife he loves; their son, Jonas, who haunts them both; and Ma Lou, the old woman selling produce in the market who remembers them all. Artfully weaving together these lives, witness is given to the desolation wreaked by nature and by man.
Brilliantly crafted, fiercely imagined, and deeply haunting, What Storm, What Thunder is a singular, stunning record, a reckoning of the heartbreaking trauma of disaster, and—at the same time—an unforgettable testimony to the tenacity of the human spirit.
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