Summary and book reviews of What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam Chancy

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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  • Published:
    Oct 2021, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

The earth had buckled and, in that movement, all that was not in its place fell upon the earth's children, upon the blameless as well as the guilty, without discrimination.

At the end of a long, sweltering day, as markets and businesses begin to close for the evening, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude shakes the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. Award-winning author Myriam J. A. Chancy masterfully charts the inner lives of the characters affected by the disaster―Richard, an expat and wealthy water-bottling executive with a secret daughter; the daughter, Anne, an architect who drafts affordable housing structures for a global NGO; a small-time drug trafficker, Leopold, who pines for a beautiful call girl; Sonia and her business partner, Dieudonné, who are followed by a man they believe is the vodou spirit of death; Didier, an emigrant musician who drives a taxi in Boston; Sara, a mother haunted by the ghosts of her children in an IDP camp; her husband, Olivier, an accountant forced to abandon the wife he loves; their son, Jonas, who haunts them both; and Ma Lou, the old woman selling produce in the market who remembers them all. Artfully weaving together these lives, witness is given to the desolation wreaked by nature and by man.

Brilliantly crafted, fiercely imagined, and deeply haunting, What Storm, What Thunder is a singular, stunning record, a reckoning of the heartbreaking trauma of disaster, and―at the same time―an unforgettable testimony to the tenacity of the human spirit.

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)



M A L O U

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Chancy reveals a fragile and nuanced world of people surviving in dire circumstances determined to rebuild their lives and communities. She consistently draws parallels to our common humanity, the universal needs of food, water, sanitation and safe shelter. For Haitians living in exile, the novel may stir or restore memories, not only of tragedy, but of vibrant communities, culture and spirit that endure. In this sense, What Storm, What Thunder reads like a love story to a place and its people. Each character has a distinctive voice, to explore and describe their own ambitions, regrets, passion, healing and growth...continued

Full Review (782 words).

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(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

People
A gorgeous, intimate voice...A reminder of the extraordinary resilience, then as now, of the Haitian people.

Washington Post
[A] stunning commentary on racism, sexual violence, capitalism and the resilience required to rebuild a life.

NPR
Chancy rarely tips into a state of utter hopelessness, nor does she strip away agency from even the most abject of people. She has unimpeachable credibility — and a clear purpose: People do persist, not merely suffer...Not since W. G. Sebald has somebody succeeded in evoking such a rich sense of the history of disaster.

Booklist
Remarkable...Every element of the writing and characterization delivers a poignant experience.

Library Journal
A soaring, heartbreaking symphony.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Survivors and victims tell their powerful, moving stories in this fictional account of the 2010 Haitian earthquake...The stories are not always easy to read, but they shouldn't be. Chancy offers fleeting redemption for some characters, but she does not deal in false hopes...A devastating, personal, and vital account.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti provides the backdrop for the extraordinary latest from Chancy...Each of the voices entrances, thanks to Chancy's beautiful prose and rich themes. This is not to be missed.

Author Blurb Edwidge Danticat, author of Everything Inside
Lending her voice to ten survivors whose lives were indelibly altered by the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Myriam J. A. Chancy's sublime choral novel not only describes what it was like for her characters before, during, and after that heartrending day, she also powerfully guides us towards further reflection and healing.

Author Blurb Zinzi Clemmons, author of What We Lose
A beautiful, haunting chorus of voices. This is a heartbreaking book, a striking achievement.

Author Blurb Angie Cruz, author of Dominicana
A gorgeous and compulsively readable page-turner in the most haunting and stunning prose. If you love the works of Jesmyn Ward, Edwidge Danticat, and J. M. Coetzee, this is the book for you! Absolutely breathtaking!

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Haitian Art

In the back matter of What Storm, What Thunder, author Myriam J. A. Chancy cites paintings by Trinidadian artist LeRoy Clarke (who passed away in July 2021) as a major inspiration for her novel. Clarke created a cycle of nearly a hundred paintings about Haiti, many of them depicting the 2010 earthquake. Similarly, Chancy was moved to create fiction to immortalize the hundreds of stories that people told her about their experiences with this disaster. Other Haitians have explored the trauma surrounding the earthquake in visual art mediums.

Haitian art enjoys a long tradition inspired by cultural crosscurrents. Whether in museums, galleries, isolated rural studios or urban alleyways, Haitian art reflects a dynamic culture born of unique ...

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