At the heart of Roxane Gay‘s devastating debut collection, Ayiti, is truth. Whether a language is shared or a language divides, what it offers, when spoken with strength and authority, is an opportunity to share the truth. There is a connection to the desire for truth from the title of the book, which is the Haitian Creole for Haiti, to the final words, which are about more than language. The final words are about that which is beyond language. That which we all share: a desire for love, a release from fear, a necessary need for freedom.
Each of the stories within this book is a slice of heartache and of truth, but the one that struck me most was the one at the very heart of the book–both its physical center and its spiritual center–and that is, “In the Manner of Water or Light.” From the very first words, I was swept into a dark, puzzling, and beautiful world:
My mother was conceived in what would ever be known as the Massacre River. The sharp smell of blood has followed her since.
The Massacre River is both the taker and giver of life. It offers a baptism in blood. And as important as the river is to the players in the story, it is also the keeper of their secrets:
The ugly details are trapped between the fragments of our family history. We are secrets ourselves.
Indeed, “we are secrets ourselves” is at the core of the stories within these books. It is as if each is a confession whispered into a deaf ear, or, conversely, a secret bursting forth, no longer able to be contained, screamed loudly from the tallest mountain, “You will hear me!” These are secrets that need telling. It is in telling and sharing the secrets that people are set free:
I had pictured the river as a wide, yawning and bloody beast, but where we stood, the river flowed weakly. The waters did not run deep. It was just a border between two geographies of grief.
If you had never read anything else Roxane Gay had written, you would certainly know from these stories that she is a truth teller, which she is. She does not hide her face or turn away from that which people do not want told. Ayiti is a brave and beautiful book, filled with truths that need to be told. Read it.