Following the 2010, 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, teenager Shorty is trapped under five floors of hospital rubble. There are dead bodies around him. In the endless darkness Shorty finds himself talking to us, (the readers) explaining how he came to be here, explaining his life to us. Shorty lives in a ghetto (Site Soley) of Haiti's Port-Au-Prince and wound up joining a gang involved in drug running; at around 14 years of age he has already killed several people. However, Shorty was born a twin and in Haiti vodou (voodoo) twins are "Marassa Jeumeaux" made flesh. Twins, therefore, have special powers, but when Shorty was still a child both his twin sister and his father were killed. The loss of his twin left Shorty only half a person. Now under the rubble Shorty becomes aware of another unseen presence, another mind sharing his. He and the other mind become as one, and suddenly, back in 1791 (or thereabouts), at age 54, Toussaint L'Overture who was a slave discovers he can read and becomes a freedom fighter, seeking to end black slavery in Haiti, and seeking Haiti's independence, first from France and then from invading English.
Shorty is a fictional character but Toussaint L'Overture did live and did become the leader of the slave rebellion in Haiti. Site Soley in Port-Au-Prince is a real place, and of course we know that terrible earthquake happened just months before our own Canterbury earthquakes occurred.
This novel is well written and often heart-breaking and harrowing. I have to admit to knowing virtually nothing about Haiti before reading the novel. Reading it inspired me to google for more information about Haiti and Toussaint's part in its colonial history. We are also taken into the mind of a young thug and killer, and we are shown some of the drivers (such as poverty) behind young boys becoming gang members.
I would have found a glossary useful because I did struggle with some of the Kreyole (Creole) words used. Not all meanings were obvious but this could have been my lack of intelligence rather than the fault of the author.
Ideas for Discussion
Ideas about Freedom. Colonialism. The capital worth of a slave versus that of a product. The revolution in France, which was all about individual rights and freedoms, had taken place, but those rights had not been applied to slaves living in Haiti which was then a French colony. So there are ironies/paradoxes to discuss. Also ideas about being trapped - under rubble - in the ghetto - in slavery - in a French prison.
A blogger I read wryly suggested this book is not for the claustrophobic. People from Christchurch who have been through our earthquakes and who have been trapped themselves, or who have known people who have been trapped, may well find parts of this story a particularly difficult read. Towards the end of the story we begin to believe that Shorty will die and that was somewhat harrowing, however he was saved from the rubble in the end.