Wednesday 1 May 2013

Book Review: The World is Moving Around Me

Pub date: January 12, 2013
$15.95 | Paperback | 192pp
Print: 978-1-55152-498-6
Ebook: 978-1-55152-499-3
Arsenal Pulp Press
The World is Moving Around Me: A memoir of the Haiti Earthquake
I was sent this book by the publicist for Arsenal Pulp Press. It sounded like an interesting read: surviving the Haitian earthquake of February 12th, 2010. The author, Dany Laferrière (1953), was in Haiti at the time, although he is now a Canadian citizen, living in Montreal.

The information package states that it is written in a series of vignettes, he "reveals the shock, rage and grief experiences by those around him, the acts of heroism he witnessed, and his own sense of survivor guilt."

This pretty much sums it up. It's not a long book, but it is short on adjectives, images, both sensory and visual. Of course the sights and sounds of death and destruction are gruesome, but must be documented. For he is sharing the truth and the reality of his direct experiences.

I found the vignettes a bit awkward and halting. Just when you thought you might sink into the story, the short paragraph stops and you must regroup and begin anew. It is a style, for sure, but not one I am comfortable with. Indeed, if you want information about what happened at the exact time of the earthquake, Laferrière was there and he and his writer friends were about to order dinner.

I do not sell him short. He provides insight into other writer's lives. He went home to Montreal, then revisited Haiti after the fact; another series of vignettes with people clearing up and cleaning up. We always wonder how survivors make it through a crisis. Rather than that long-standing trite journalist's question, "How did you feel?", this book answers the better question, "What did you think?"

Laferrière is an experienced writer, this is an English translation, by the way.
"The damage was not just material. In less than a minute, some saw their lifelong dreams go up in smoke. That cloud in the sky a while back was the dust of their dreams."
It was a bit of torture, these brief, stark glimpses of the rich culture that is Haiti.
"All day long, people speculate on why some houses stood the test while others, right next door, collapsed. Some people believe that Goudougoudou (the name the poorer parts of own gave the earthquake, since this was the sound people heard) acted intentionally. A new god has been born. Not in the sense of a god who punishes; he's been named to give him an identity. The way it's done with hurricanes."
Haiti, a land torn by earthquake, hurricanes and dictators, as much as by violence and poverty, yet Haiti is rich in culture, food, religion, superstition, and intriguing sights, sounds and smells. I felt robbed. This book was likely cathartic for the author, but it leaves the reader, who may not understand the culture, all the poorer for it. For those familiar with Haitian culture, it left you feeling less than complete, with only a partially painted picture.
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@Barrie Summy


pattinase (abbott) said...

I hope a more complete picture of it written more eloquently comes along.

Sarah Laurence said...

I appreciated your honest review of this book and analysis of why it didn't work.

Barrie said...

It might be interesting to read something else by this author. To see if this abbreviated style is how he always writes. Thanks for reviewing, Jenn!