In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. ‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free …
It makes me sound rather ignorant, but it never crossed my mind that Haiti would have such an interesting history an culture. Let’s be honest, Haiti never comes up in history class at school as is very rarely featured in any form of entertainment. I’d never even heard much about it until the 2010 earthquake, when Haiti suddenly became plastered everywhere. And now? Let’s just say that I promptly went on the internet to find more information upon finishing the book.
In Darkness manages to encompasses the entirety of the county; put it’s very essence on paper. Half the book is set in the past, providing a historical perspective, while the other half is set in the present, showing current events. Woven throughout is Vodou, completing the picture. Yet, the novel still only skims the surface of this fascinating country and I would have loved even more details and information.
Toussaint L’Overture really did exist. He is credited with freeing the people of Haiti from slavery and transforming the country into an independent nation. A military mastermind, he led history’s largest and most successful slave revolt. I know the author expanded on the facts, but I found the revolt to be extremely interesting. I was often reminded of Octavian Nothing, a duology which told the story of the Blacks’ role in the American Revolution.
In the present day, Shorty’s story is equally as engrossing. He tells the story of life in the most dangerous slum in the world, a place ruled by gangsters and wracked with poverty and disease. It’s a place I never want to visit. Shorty describes the political unrest, the violence and rape. He seems much older than 15 at times, possessing the maturity of a boy forced to grow up too quickly. His voice will stick with me for a long time.
The tale is gritty and dark. Its is very mature, not shrinking back from the blood, gore and profanity. Yet it is filled with hope; hope for the future of the nation, hope for immediate survival. The title is extremely fitting on so many levels – the revolutions that took place in darkness, the young boy trapped in darkness and the people who are born in the slums ‘in darkness’. Where there is darkness though, there is always light.
In Darkness definitely worth a read by adults and young adults alike.