Excerpt from What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J. A. Chancy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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What Storm, What Thunder

by Myriam J. A. Chancy

What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J. A. Chancy X
What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J. A. Chancy
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2021, 320 pages

    Aug 2022, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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Atibo Legba, ouvri pòt la pou mwen,
Papa Legba, ouvri pòt la pou mwen,
Ouvri pòt la pou mwen kab entre,
Pou mwen kab tounin.

[Atibo Legba, open the door for me,
Papa Legba, open the door for me,
Open the door so that I can enter,
So that I can return.]

—Vodou invocation to Legba, opener of doors


At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is
needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation's ear, I
would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting
reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light
that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder.
We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.

—Frederick Douglass (1852)


If you don't speak for the dead, who will?

—Concussion (2015)


Ezili, o! M san zo, ey!
Ezili m san zo!
M san zo lan tout kòm!
Ezili, o! M san zo, ey!
M san zo lan tout kòm!
Ezili o! M san zo.

Oh Ezili! Hey, I have no bones!
Ezili I have no bones!
I have no bones in my entire body!
Oh Ezili! Hey, I have no bones!
I have no bones in my entire body!
Oh Ezili! I have no bones.

—Vodou traditional for Grann Ezili

Port-au-Prince, November 25, 2014
"Oh. Oh ye, oh ye. Manman'mwen. Oh ye, oh ye, oye. M'pa gen zo ankò!" My old mama used to say these words when she grew too old to draw water from her own well. I remember. When I made my way back to see her in her last days—standing in the tap-tap truck for long hours as we traveled the serpentine road leading out of the capital to the villages of the coast, all the way to Saint Marc, where I was born, and my mother was born, and her mother before her—I was troubled to see her diminished frame in her bed. I could see her bones through the frail, wrinkled skin that lay limply across them. I could see the bones, but still she moaned to the goddess plaintively: "I have no bones; I have no bones."

Now that I am old like her, I understand the moaning of her last hours. Yes, Mama, you had no bones, and I did not understand you. I did not understand. She complained of cold during the hot days and of heat in the coolness of night. I rubbed a cloth dipped in river water over her flaccid skin, slowly, slowly, in circular motions, to warm her, to cool her. She sighed as I did this, sighed for the temporary relief, without a sense of hope, as a soldier of war would after being shot, waiting in the trenches to be found by enemy or kin, hoping not to be found by an enemy. At night, I lay beside her and put my arms around her, two blankets covering us. She shivered in the night even when it was still hot. She died July 15, the day that the devotees climb the waterfalls in Saut d'Eau, seeking penance from Metrès Dlo, seeking healing and renewal. "No bones," she said, her eyes wide open, looking through me. "No bones."

But, in the end, all that remained was skin and bones. When she died, the wick of light in her eyes flickered, then disappeared, a lifetime of misery extinguished, very slowly. Just a heap of bones.

A month ago, the dictator's son died. I wonder who mourned his lifeless body. What the gods had to say. Whether his passing meant that we would be delivered of whatever curse his father, the god of death, had set upon us. Thinking about it, I realized that he was a man like other men. A heap of bones like my mother.

Excerpted from What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J Chancy . Copyright © 2021 by Myriam J Chancy . Excerpted by permission of Tin House Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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