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What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J. A. Chancy
Literary fiction

What Storm, What Thunder

by Myriam J. A. Chancy

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Quick take

Told in a chorus of compelling and diverse voices: a dirge for a small island wrenched apart by a powerful earthquake.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Literary


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Immigration



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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Content warning

This book contains mentions of suicide and death of children.

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What Storm, What Thunder


Ezili, o! M san zo, ey!

Ezili m san zo!

M san zo lan tout kòm!

Ezili, o! M san zo, ey!

M san zo lan tout kòm!

Ezili o! M san zo.

Oh Ezili! Hey, I have no bones!

Ezili I have no bones!

I have no bones in my entire body!

Oh Ezili! Hey, I have no bones!

I have no bones in my entire body!

Oh Ezili! I have no bones.

—Vodou traditional for Grann Ezili

Port-au-Prince, November 25, 2014

“Oh. Oh ye, oh ye. Manman’mwen. Oh ye, oh ye, oye. M’pa gen zo ankò!” My old mama used to say these words when she grew too old to draw water from her own well. I remember. When I made my way back to see her in her last days—standing in the tap-tap truck for long hours as we traveled the serpentine road leading out of the capital to the villages of the coast, all the way to Saint Marc, where I was born, and my mother was born, and her mother before her—I was troubled to see her diminished frame in her bed. I could see her bones through the frail, wrinkled skin that lay limply across them. I could see the bones, but still she moaned to the goddess plaintively: “I have no bones; I have no bones.”

Now that I am old like her, I understand the moaning of her last hours. Yes, Mama, you had no bones, and I did not understand you. I did not understand. She complained of cold during the hot days and of heat in the coolness of night. I rubbed a cloth dipped in river water over her flaccid skin, slowly, slowly, in circular motions, to warm her, to cool her. She sighed as I did this, sighed for the temporary relief, without a sense of hope, as a soldier of war would after being shot, waiting in the trenches to be found by enemy or kin, hoping not to be found by an enemy. At night, I lay beside her and put my arms around her, two blankets covering us. She shivered in the night even when it was still hot. She died July 15, the day that the devotees climb the waterfalls in Saut d’Eau, seeking penance from Metrès Dlo, seeking healing and renewal. “No bones,” she said, her eyes wide open, looking through me. “No bones.”

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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.

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Member ratings (696)

  • Elizabeth B.

    Madison, WI

    This was heart-wrenching at many points, but so important. It helped me understand the longtime struggles of the Haitian majority and how the US has caused more harm. “Build Back Better” = appalling.

  • Emmylou M.

    Framingham, MA

    Devastating and beautiful reflection on the destruction, both individually and family/community wide, of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 12 perspectives, some closer to action & more emotional/memoeable

  • Gwendolyn C.

    Verona, WI

    Deeply emotional, this book is a wonderful look at the humanity behind events of mass loss. It can be difficult to conceptualize the experience of the people behind the numbers - read this! Check TWs!

  • Shelsea D.

    Helena, MT

    This poignant fictional account masterfully weaves together the lives & fates of several different characters during the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Shrewd, haunting, insightful, & hopeful.

  • Emily G.

    Temple , TX

    This was such a powerful tale of many different lives and perspectives all similarly effected by the earthquake in Haiti. I listened on audio with the physical book. It’s fantastic!

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