Home. Is the one word the I would use to decribe Roxane Gay’s Ayiti. This collection of short stories centers on Haiti, the Haitian experience in Haiti, and those of immigrants who travel to the United States in search of a better life made me nostaligic to be home in Miami, in my parent’s house surrounded by my culture. The daughter of Haitian immigrants who immigrated to New York and Miami during the late 1970s , early 1980s, I identified with many of the stories as it relates to the lived experiences of my parents in a foreign country that has always looked at them as other in spite of their contributions to society.
Motherfuckers reminds me of my mother’s stories of her struggles navigating the latter part of her high schools years in America and the struggle of being Haitian at a time when it was not cool to be Haitian. About My Father’s Accent reminds me of my father’s still very Haitian accent despite living in the US for 40 plus years and how it connects to him to what will always be home and where he hopes to lay his bones when he has completed his dash on this side of heaven.
My parents were born in Haiti, the first free black nation in the world.
It is an island of contradictions.
The sand is warm. The water is so clear-blue bright that it is sometimes painful to behold. The art and music are rich, textured, revelatory, ecstatic. The sugarcane is raw and sweet.
And yet. What most people think they know is this: Haiti is the pooreset country in the Western Hemisphere.
Although Gay leaves you nostaligic for the smells, sounds, and culture of Haiti, she also weaves into her short stories the many reason’s why it is that Haitians risk their lives to travel by boat to the US in search of a better life. In A Cool, Dry Place, a couple flees Haiti by boat due to the disaster that is characteristic of the island, but not so much their lives. Yves worried for the safety of his wife, Gabrielle, arranges for them to take a boat to Miami, where he hopes to have children with Gabrielle, because he refuses to subject the children he hopes to one day have to the living conditions of Haiti. Yet, despite the background of the short story’s focus on leaving Haiti, Gay heavily focuses on the love between Yves and Gabrielle, which effortlessly flows off the pages as you fall into their love making and have all the feels! I mean all the feels!!! On the flip side of highlighting a heterosexual relationship in A Cool, Dry Place, Gay also explores the dangers of being in a same-sex relationship in Of Ghosts and Shadows and how Amelie and her lover are not afforded the same freedoms as those in same sex marriages in the US. In Manner of Water or Light, Gay unpacks the effects of the 1937 Pasley Massacre among three generations of women and the impacts it has left on their lives. These are among my favorite stories in the collection of 16 stories.
Ayiti, is a collection of short stories that will move you to long to be home, may it be on the island itself or with family throughout the Haitian diaspora. I promise you will not be disappointed.