Sunday 19 September 2021

An Untamed State

 This was quite a read:

Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port-au-Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself "The Commander," Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.

An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places. 

And no, I didn't buy it because I thought it said The Untamed, though I will be all over that if the audiobook ever comes out in English.

This was a very detailed study into sexual violence, torture - both physical and mental - and survival. There's something a bit Death and the Maiden about it, though the stories are very different. It just has that really weighty sense of female testimony to it. So much so, that I looked up the author, Roxane Gay, afterwards. It's always impressive when you find a work of non-fiction that tells a deep truth, and even more impressive when you find a work of fiction that reads just as convincingly. This is the latter. As with the very best fiction, it didn't happen - but it might have done.

Certainly not a tourism brochure for Haiti, but a fascinating insight into another world. 

Soon, everyone was offering their own desperate piece of information about my country, my people, about the violence, and the poverty, and the hopelessness, conjuring a place that does not exist anywhere but the American imagination... There are three Haities. The country Americans know, and the country Haitians know, and the country I thought I knew.

You always wonder this about any country: how your perception of it fits with other people's perceptions. There are as many experiences of a place as there are people living there. I felt that when visiting Sierra Leone, I feel it living in Rwanda, I think it about my native country, the UK. The differences in experience depending on money, nationality, and networks. You are constantly assessing and reassessing your worldview, though you can never entirely break free of it. 

So, this was very thought provoking. And, of course, every woman wonders about what she would do, and how she would react, in a worst-case scenario - apparently that's why women flock to watch horror movies where the main victims are women. A safe space to think through what you would do. 

This was split, a bit like If This is a Man/The Truce, into the character's time in captivity and her return to 'normality'. It is told through the relationship between Mireille, her husband and her mother-in-law. Very boldly told, and very human. 

A challenging read, but a really good one.

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