An Untamed State
This book was placed in my hands with a disclaimer: don’t read this if you're in a bad or sad mood. It'll make it worse. This is not an easy read. You may not like what you read. It will keep you up ‘til the wee hours of the morning. Prepare yourself and have something super happy and nice to read once you’re done. Well, they were right but, seriously, what a read.
Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State is set in modern day Haiti. It's the story of Mireille, the daughter of a well-off Haitian businessman. She's kidnapped outside her family’s home and put up for ransom. It's the story of what befalls her during this time of imprisonment as well as the story of her life; of how she met her husband, her relationship with her family, and her life living between the United States and Haiti. It’s truly an upsetting read but you couldn’t have torn me away from the book if you’d tried.
Roxane Gay, of Bad Feminist fame (TED Talk and book), has created a masterpiece with An Utamed State. But, and I will repeat myself here, it is not for the faint of heart. You will be drawn in, you will be shocked, you will not be able to stop yourself and you may also never want to visit Haiti. Ever.
The picture that Gay paints is vivid, fierce and completely breath-taking. She highlights the painful differences between a rich life in Haiti and one lived in the slums. Then she continues by comparing life in Haiti to a life lived in Miami, Florida. The scenes at the airport describing the passengers checking their bags, bags stuffed full of essential items so readily available in the USA yet difficult to find in Haiti, are completely eye-opening and very real.
Mireille is a marvel. Her life is a maelstrom of ups and downs. The relationships in her life are the center of the story; the tumultuous and loving relationship with her husband, Michael. The fierce tiger-mother love she has for her newborn son. The recently found respect she has for her mother-in-law and, of course, the distant, cold and business-like relationship she has with her father. Mireille is strong, determined and does not give up. She faces horrors that no human should ever have to face, yet many do, and does so whilst holding her head high. She is powerful. She is fierce. Yet, she is terrified. She shrinks to the smallest version of herself. She surrenders but she never gives up on hope.
Though, the tale of Mireille and her family is upsetting in the present, the back story of how she met her husband and her upbringing are wonderful. The contrast between these two stories is brilliant. It helped to give me pause to catch my breath again. I truly appreciated this as I read An Untamed State in two sittings. It was utterly impossible to put down. The last half found me tucked up in a chair, glued to the pages with tissues and unable to move. I needed to know what would happen. I needed to know if everything would be alright. I needed to finish the story.