book review: In Darkness

title: In Darkess

author: Nick Lake

date: Bloomsbury, January 2012

main character: Shorty


Nick Lake tells the story of Haiti by combining the stories of Toussaint L’Overture and Shorty. When we meet Shorty, he is trapped in a hospital that has collapsed on him in the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. He uses his time in darkness to tell us about his life and why he was in the hospital. In his telling, we probably learn as much about Haiti as we do about Shorty because the gang violence and religious beliefs that are part of Shorty’s life are also very much part of Haiti. Perhaps only in a culture that believes in voodoo and Zombies could Toussaint and Shorty become one. Or do they? Is Lake artistically stating that Haiti’s past and present is linked in darkness?

Biggie stopped the car.

Y’a  pwoblem? he said.

Gen pwoblem, said Manman. Not with you, anyway, Biggie. But that’s my son in your car. My kid.

Biggie laughed.

–I don’t see a kid, he said. I see a soldier. My frere chouchou. This kid’s one of my bodyguards. I love him, man. I love all my soldiers.

Manman looked at the gun in my hand. She said:

–Chita chouter yon your wap fait goal.

That’s something Manman used to say to me a lot. It means if you keep shooting, you’ll make a goal. It means, if you keep doing that, you’ll get what you’re aiming for. It means basically, stop doing that, or you’ll get what you deserve.

Usually I laughed when Manman said it; it’s such an old woman thing to say. But then I had a gun in my hand and she was talking about shooting and it made me uncomfortable.

Lake’s experience in Haiti helps him creatively recreate the textures of Haitian life. It is a story about a narrow part of Haiti but it is also a story that takes us to a small place in the world that readers wouldn’t otherwise know. In the Author’s Note, Lake tells us that the neighborhood in which the story is set is perhaps the most violent place on earth. He writes about its violence, bondage, pain and history and somehow in all this, he manages to provide a sliver of hope that the Haitians will indeed one day be free.