As a member of the MUSA Reading and Writing Book Club, I am exposed to a diverse spectrum of authors and literature. I have learned that stories, as much as we wish they would, do not always translate well from their native language.
This was NOT the case with Dany Laferrière’s “The World is Moving Around Me: A Memoir of the Haiti Earthquake.” Originally written in French and translated by David Homel, this narrative was a poignant, heart-rending collection of vignettes that spoke to Haiti before, during and in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
January 12, 2010. Haitian-Canadian author, Dany Laferrière’s was sitting in a restaurant at the Hôtel Karibe in preparation for a literary festival that was being hosted to bring writers from around the world to Port-au-Prince.
At 4:53pm the earth shifted and the ground cracked open.
“You can hide from the wind or even from fire, but not from the earth that moves beneath your feet.”
Laferrière weaves this memoir together through episodes, none that were longer than two pages, most were a short paragraph. What a meaningful and artistic way to construct this story, in conversations, images, scenes and moments. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the pieces that were left behind by the ground-shattering earthquake.
The forward includes a quote that speaks to a central theme in this literary work. “When everything else collapses, culture remains.” No doubt – this was a tragic recollection of a catastrophic natural disaster. But more than that – it was a story of resilience. It shares how people continue to live and “walk upon the ground that has already betrayed [them.]”
Laferrière writes “these people are so used to finding life in difficult conditions that they could bring hope down to hell.”
I don’t know about you, but my canon of Haitian authors starts and ends with Roxane Gay and Edwidge Danticat. I was happy to change that with Dany Laferrière and am looking forward to reading more of his work because, truly, the craft in this novel was breath-taking.
Easy five stars and a very quick read in terms of length and complexity. It may just take a little longer if you, like me, have to underline, highlight and sit with passages for a while.
Some of my favorite quotes:
“The earthquake attached what was hard, solid what could resist it. The concrete fell. The flowers survived.”
“People, like houses, can be divided into three categories: the ones who are dead, those who are gravely injured, and those who are deeply damaged inside but don’t know it yet… You can’t have experienced it and go your way as if nothing had happened. It’ll catch up to you one day.”
“She had lost her whole family. She sees cruelty in the act that she was spared.”
“The men slept like babies. The women kept watch, listening for the slightest disturbance.”
“I’m surprised Aunt Renee, who never left the house was was bedridden for the last twenty years of her life, could have known so many people. I’m told that they too lost family in the earthquake, and now they’re attending funerals of people they don’t know to pay tribute to their own dead.”
“On TV, you can watch a rose bloom in ten seconds. In times of great turmoil, like now, people are glued to the small screen. Long enough for this artificial time to end up infiltrating their systems. When we watch television for too long, we start to think we can act upon events unfolding before our eyes. Everything in our lives seems too slow. We demand instant changes. Every time we come back from the bathroom, we want to see something new. We want progress. Why doesn’t that truck go faster? We criticize people are are taking action, though we haven’t moved from our arm-chair for the last two days. After a while, we figure it’s time to move onto something else. If we can’t change reality, we hope it will turn into fiction. That’s what happens when we spend too much time watching television.”
“Everything is seen from that angle. You get to work late. That’s due to post-earthquake stress disorder, even if you’ve never been on time in your life.”
“Since January 12 (we say January 12 here the way they say September 11 in other places)…”