Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Review: 'What Storm, What Thunder,' by Myriam J. A. Chancy
0 Comments
AP

Review: 'What Storm, What Thunder,' by Myriam J. A. Chancy

  • 0
{{featured_button_text}}
"What Storm, What Thunder," by Myriam J. A. Chancy.

"What Storm, What Thunder," by Myriam J. A. Chancy. (Tin House/TNS)

A powerful, emotionally rich novel about 10 individuals affected by the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

"What Storm, What Thunder" by Myriam J. A. Chancy; Tin House (320 pages, $27.95)

———

On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, one that killed between 250,000 and 300,000 people and left more than a million homeless. Haitian-Canadian-American author Myriam J.A. Chancy wanted to write something that showed how lives were destroyed or disrupted by the catastrophe. The result is "What Storm, What Thunder," an accomplished novel of immense power and rare sensitivity that keeps us in its firm grip until the last page.

The book is a kind of choral piece composed of 10 distinct and compelling voices. Many of Chancy's interconnected characters live through "the Event" yet struggle to endure the seismic aftereffects. Some are less fortunate souls who only manage to achieve so much before their luck runs out. Each vividly imagined character, whether a survivor or a victim, conveys the enormity of the tragedy through their personal ordeals.

Chancy's cast is headed by Ma Lou, an elderly market woman who keenly observes what goes on around her in Port-au-Prince. She looks back on the day of the earthquake and tells how she and her colleagues stopped observing and sprang into action, freeing people from the rubble and saying prayers for those who were trapped. Everyone is treated equally: "The saints, the crooks, the foreigners, the white saviors, the bleeding hearts, they all need sustenance, and we give it to them."

We also meet Sara, who lost her children in the earthquake and afterwards was left by her husband, Olivier, to fend for herself in a vast, dangerous displaced-persons camp. Olivier's nickname for her was Wozo, or Reed: "You bend but you don't break." Little does he know that his grief-ravaged wife is now at the breaking point. Another dweller in this tent city is 15-year-old Taffia. By day she suffers the routine hardships of the camp; by night she is on her guard against packs of marauding males.

Some of Chancy's characters are marked by their great escapes: a drug trafficker has a near-death experience in an elevator; a sex worker flees a hotel that rises then falls in on itself, "like a cake of many layers." Others, such as Richard, who "rebirthed" himself by disowning his mother and making his fortune abroad, don't make it to safety but are given time to re-evaluate their beliefs.

Two Haitian exiles offer refreshingly different perspectives, those of outsiders looking in. Didier, an undocumented taxi driver in Boston, follows the unfolding news from "this white, snowy land of hard stares" and worries frantically about the loved ones he left behind. Anne, an architect working for an NGO in Rwanda, answers the call to return home and help rebuild her own country.

Chancy excels with her depictions of horror, adversity and desperation. One encounter is gut-wrenching. A five-page testimony by a young boy is tear-inducing. Readers who don't look away will be haunted by this important book for some time.

———

Malcolm Forbes has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the Economist and the Wall Street Journal. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

0 Comments

Stay up-to-date on what's happening

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

“Taking Down Backpage: Fighting the World’s Largest Sex Trafficker" by Maggy Krell; NYU Press (192 pages, $22.95) ——— It’s the best justice system money can buy. As a prosecutor in California, Maggy Krell saw that unfairness daily, particularly when cops would do sweeps of streetwalkers. Pimps and johns who exploited prostitutes went free. The women went to jail. Krell’s book, “Taking Down ...

Sequoia Nagamatsu's debut novel, "How High We Go in the Dark," blends speculative and literary fiction to offer a bleak yet hopeful glimpse of humanity's potential futures. "How High We Go in the Dark" by Sequoia Nagamatsu; William Morrow (304 pages, $27.99) ——— Early in 2020, in an interview with the BBC, sci-fi writer William Gibson observed that "All through the 20th century we constantly ...

Evison deftly weaves stories of the present and the past, illustrating how all of our lives and futures are linked together. "Small World" by Jonathan Evison; Dutton (480 pages, $28) ——— The passengers aboard the Amtrak Coast Starlight are all bound for Seattle. Strangers on a train, they will all be affected by an accident that will derail plans and upend lives. Jonathan Evison's "Small ...

In this retelling of the myth of Apollo and Daphne, author Mark Prins has written an engrossing psychological thriller. "The Latinist" by Mark Prins; W.W. Norton (352 pages, $26.95) ——— The cover of Mark Prins' sparky but flawed debut novel, "The Latinist," depicts in lurid colors Italian baroque sculptor Bernini's celebrated statue of Apollo and Daphne. The effect jars with the ...

Ulrich Boschwitz wrote his novel about a German Jew on the run in the days after Kristallnacht. One day last March, former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz opened his Wall Street Journal to find a review of a book that had been written by his cousin Ulrich. His cousin, who he hadn't known was a writer. His cousin, who had died in 1942. "I was startled when it appeared," Rudy said. "I had never heard ...

What does it take for one British-Nigerian woman to find a date to her cousin's wedding? A lot, apparently. "Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?" by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn; Pamela Dorman Books (384 pages, $26) ——— If Lizzie Damilola Blackburn's debut novel, "Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?," was to become a TV sitcom, it could run episode after episode, season after season, without losing steam on ...

In 1973, a Korean War veteran with a Ph.D. in English from Boston University published his first novel, a detective tale called "The Godwulf Manuscript." Its hero was a private detective named Spenser (no first name). Robert B. Parker’s books about him became a phenomenon — Parker wrote 40 bestselling novels about Spenser (as well as numerous books in three other series) before he died at his ...

Here are the bestsellers for the week that ended Saturday, Jan. 15, compiled from data from independent and chain bookstores, book wholesalers and independent distributors nationwide, powered by NPD BookScan © 2022 NPD Group. (Reprinted from Publishers Weekly, published by PWxyz LLC. © 2022, PWxyz LLC.) HARDCOVER FICTION 1. "To Paradise: A Novel" by Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday) Last week: — 2. ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Trending

Breaking News