In Darkness by Nick Lake
|In Darkness by Nick Lake|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: An intense and affecting exploration of Haiti through the eyes of a boy in the present, caught in the rubble of the great quake, and a 19th century revolutionary leader. Gritty and real, full of cultural detail, this is a book not to miss.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: January 2012|
|External links: Author's website|
Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013
Shorty is lying in the rubble of the great Haitian earthquake of 2010. If he's not rescued soon, he will die. Shorty is from Site Soley, the sprawling slum of Port-au-Prince. After the murder of his father and abduction of his twin sister, Shorty has allowed himself to fall further and further into the slum's gang culture. But Route 9 isn't all about drug-dealing and gun-running - it's also about feeding the poor and educating the children. And Shorty has a great deal to teach his readers, as he recounts his life while waiting to die.
Two centuries earlier, Toussaint l'Ouverture led the Haitian Revolution. A military and political mastermind, he freed the slaves and paved the way to a free republic. And somehow, Shorty's mind reaches back through the years and forms a connection with this great historical figure. Together, they must both face terrifying darkness to have any hope of the light...
... and I don't really want to say any more, because this is a book to come to fresh, not with a reviewer having given it all away.
In Darkness is being compared to Pigeon English, which I thoroughly enjoyed. But I do think In Darkness is a more successful book. Shorty is much less naive than Kelman's Harri and while this does mean we lose a little humour, we do get a more credible central character. And the magical elements work better too, because they tie in so strongly with voudun and its own inextricable relationship with Haitian culture and mores. It doesn't seem at all odd - in Shorty's world - that two people could share a body, or be tied together through history.
I thought it was a wonderful book, full of cultural and political awareness and a deep sense of humanity. The historical parts were fascinating and, now I know about Toussaint l'Ouverture, I can see why Nick Lake feels his achievements should be better known. His story is incredibly powerful and heartbreaking, too. But Shorty's tale of Site Soley and Route 9 is also powerful and heartbreaking and it's happening now. Readers, old and young alike, will come away from In Darkness with a meaningful understanding of what it is to be Haitian. And what it is like to have the world fall down on you.
Highly, highly, and thrice highly recommended. Don't miss it.
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman also mixes a little bit of magic realism in a story about gang culture - this time in the UK. The Haitian view of the magic between twins is also a theme in White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.
In Darkness by Nick Lake is in the The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013.
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