An Untamed State
by Roxane Gay
Published: 5/6/14 by Grove Atlantic
4.5 out of 5 stars
I'm fluctuating between 4 and 5 stars on this book. This is not a book that anyone can say they "liked." It is brutal and graphic in its descriptions of the horrific things that happened to a woman kidnapped in Haiti. It was hard to read. But it was also hard to put down. I think I will go with 4.5 stars for this one.
Mirielle Jameson is a Haitian woman married to an American man. Her father is a wealthy businessman in Port au Prince. Mirielle lives a comfortable life in the USA with her husband and young son. While visiting her family in Haiti, Mirielle is kidnapped and taken hostage. Her kidnappers demand a million dollar ransom from her father, and for thirteen days Mirielle is subjected to atrocious sexual abuse from multiple men while she waits for her father to pay the ransom.
This is a painful and intense book. The subject matter is not easy and not enjoyable in the least. But it is a gripping account of one woman's survival and her life in the aftermath. I spent a week in Haiti on a missions trip, and I observed many of the same contrasts discussed in this book. Large mansions right next to ramshackle shacks. The beautiful ocean surrounded by a trash littered beach. A few extremely wealthy Haitians surrounded by a mass crowd of impoverished people. So much beauty, and yet so much pain. Because I have experienced this culture firsthand, this book struck a real chord with me. As an American, it is easier for me to pretend that the problems of Haiti do not exist. This book reminded me that they do exist, and they are all too real.
The second part of this novel deals with Mirielle's life after she is released from her kidnappers. I wasn't expecting it, but this was the more gripping part of the story. Generally these types of stories end with the climax of the hostage being released. This story continues and really shines during the time after the kidnapping. As Mirielle tries to figure out who she is and what she will do now and how she will relate to her husband, as she struggles with PTSD, I had tears in my eyes and lump in my throat through it all. Her struggle was so real, and I thought this novel showed in the most heartbreaking of ways the lifelong consequences that rape and abuse cause for women. I am normally not an emotional reader, and I rarely cry while reading novels. But this one really got to me in the second half, and I could not stop reading until I finished it all.
One complaint I have comes at the end of the novel. There is one event that happens right at the end that felt way too coincidental and improbable and unnecessary. I just wish Roxanne Gay would have left that part out of the story.
I would recommend this book with caution, as the subject is difficult. But if you can handle the brutality of the subject, it is an arresting and engrossing read that will stick with you long after the pages end.