I’m not sure that this is a book one can spoil, but I am going to speak candidly without worrying about giving anything away. It is not suspenseful, it is harrowing and you deserve to know what awaits you when you crack its cover.
I want to start by saying I have never been violently raped. But this book made me feel like I had. I have never met Roxane Gay but she mind-fucked me so hard I had nightmares for a week until I finally had to stop sitting down to read this book after 5pm. I am serious when I say that her writing in this novel is so vivid and intense, you will feel yourself experiencing everything that is happening. You will smell the smells.
Our main character is a native of Haiti who marries an American man and has a child with him. She feels the pull to return to her homeland and wants her husband to feel it is home as well. On a vacation trip to visit her mother and father who live there in comfort, they are besieged on their way to the beach and Miri is kidnapped and held for ransom. She is held for thirteen days, and you will feel each and every one. It will feel like a lifetime. It will feel like your soul is being ripped into two pieces so that one piece can survive what is happening and the other can be kept in a safe place so that later you can become a whole person again, if you survive.
The captivity part of this novel was not what made it powerful to me. It will be what draws you in, but it is what happens after she is released that should make you absolutely weep. Make you long for someone to be patient with you, to care only about what you need, to encourage your healing. We live in a world where, either purposefully or subconsciously, we try to make everything about ourselves. We think that if we say “Oh! I know how you feel, now listen to why I know what you are going through!” it will show the person we are with that they are not alone and someone understands them. This only serves to take the attention away from where it belongs: on the person who needs comfort, healing, and time.
There were two places in the second half of this book that I had to place a post-it note in, because I read the paragraph and my heart sang inside of me. If only we all had someone who might treat us with this much care and respect.
“Her kindness, the unexpectedness of it, was more than I could bear. Before I realized what I was doing, I leaned into her now-narrow frame. She held me and kissed the top of my head. I didn’t cry, and I didn’t speak and Lorraine didn’t speak. We just sat there. I remembered, for a small moment, what being safe felt like. I longed for my own mother, but she was not safe and could not or would not keep me safe.”
Even the act of freeing Miri was not focused on concern for Miri but her parents’ concern for their own relationship and financial well-being. Her husband only wanted to talk about how the event affected him. Her escape to her in-laws’ farm is where she finds her first modicum of peace and it was so beautiful I could hardly stand it.
I hope and pray I will never have to go through something like this IRL. But people are captured, raped, physically and mentally tortured every day. Look at our rape culture in the US. Look to our universities and our homes. Women are crying out to be heard, to be comforted, defended, healed. We are told it was our fault somehow, we should have done something differently.
Lorraine tells Miri as she’s bathing her that “You have nothing to be ashamed of. Your body will heal” and Miri’s response is that “I’m no good anymore. I am dead.”
And I think that Lorraine’s response to this is something all women should hear. Women in marriages that are dead, women who are in dangerous relationships. Women who have been raped, women who have been made to feel they are powerless in one way or another.
“There’s so much good in you, it can’t possibly be gone. And I believe you feel dead right now, but you won’t always.”
The beauty in this book is that our heroine is heard. Her feelings and experience are acknowledged and her own personal route to healing is encouraged. It’s about HER. She becomes what she terms “no one” and almost like an animal to survive her ordeal. And how she is treated in that untamed state by each of the other characters in the book is anywhere from appalling to gentle, and helps her find her way back to that other half of her soul. In my opinion, despite the PTSD that she experiences, I believe she emerges stronger and more in charge of herself than she was before. And more importantly, there is hope for the future.
Read this book, but be aware that it takes you places. It’s an important book to read if your mind is ready.