Port-au-Prince, Haiti in Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State

Port-au-Prince. PHOTO CREDIT: LeRoc. This photo is licensed under the the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“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.

That night, I buried my face against Michael’s neck, felt his pulse against my cheek. He held me closer. He understood. There are three Haiti’s—the country Americans know and the country Haitians know and the country I thought I knew.”1

Roxanne Gay’s An Untamed State is the story of Mireille, a second-generation Haitian-American who is kidnapped while visiting her parents in Port-au-Prince. Although Mireille’s family is native to the island, now she lives in Miami with her husband and infant son. Her parents live in a protected estate in Port-au-Prince, shielded from the destitution and despair that exist outside their walls. While she spends thirteen days in her captors’ custody, Mireille reflects on the Haiti she knew as a child, and how other Americans perceive her home country. In the aftermath of her kidnapping, she struggles to reconcile the beauty in a country fraught with economic disparity and turmoil. The novel is a story of loss: loss of family, of one’s homeland, of identity.

Port-au-Prince is the capital of Haiti, with just over 1.2 million people. Before the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, more than three-quarters of the country’s population lived below the poverty line and more than half lived in abject poverty. These numbers have only risen in the four years since then, and recovery from the earthquake has been slow. Tourism used to be a significant part of the Haitian economy, but due to political instability, the industry has suffered. Haiti does have the highest rate of kidnapping in the Caribbean, but one of the lowest homicide rates. With its unique culture a mixture of French, African, and Taíno influences, Haiti is certainly unlike any anywhere else in the Caribbean. Those who do visit Haiti are encouraged to go prepared and remain vigilant during their travels.

Read more about Port-au-Prince on Wikipedia. Find An Untamed State at a local library or on Amazon.

1 Gay, Roxane. An Untamed State. New York: Black Cat, 2014. 11. Print.

Krista recently graduated with her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Saint Mary’s College of California. She is also a contributing editor for a Bay Area-based literary journal, The East Bay Review (www.theeastbayreview.com).

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