Having read but one short collection this entire year, I’m ending 2014 with a really good one. I was gifted this signed copy by a friend and I am so grateful. Ayiti is Roxane Gay’s debut novel of short stories. It confronts the reader with Haiti, the good and the bad. It consists of fifteen short stories all carrying different themes about Haiti and the Haitian diaspora.
All the stories have a flavor of island living that is hard to ignore. The first four stories recount fitting in in the United States as an immigrant, being different because one has an accent, and people’s reactions to those differences. The other stories relate Haitians’ desires to leave their country for a better life in the United States. Gay depicts the difficulty from both sides – the Haitian that emigrates and the Haitian that stays back home, very well. Each story details aspects that we the reader may not be prepared to read. We are confronted with the dark side of life in Haiti and immigrant life in the United States. At times, her stories take on an erotic tone, but it isn’t at all gratuitous.
Kidnapping and prostitution are two of the darkest subjects in this collection. The fifth story Things I Know About Fairy Tales speaks specifically about being kidnapped. It is the short story that became An Untamed State. I haven’t read it yet but even as a short story it was dark, menacing, and heightened the senses. I’m curious to see how this short story develops into An Untamed State.
Haiti is a country that seems to get under its citizens’ skin and is difficult to leave. The idea of leaving for good seems to be impossible for some and a necessity for others. Haiti’s breezy beaches, gritty cities, simple lifestyle yet fearful, dangerous, and imminent violence are haunting. Ayiti is definitely a short story collection worth checking out. It gives an excellent view of Roxane Gay’s poignant and refreshing writing style. I just love the way she adds pop culture references into her storytelling. It helps the reader understand even better what she’s trying to say and gives particular life to her short stories.
This is a short story that Zadie Smith wrote and had published in The New Yorker. This is the short story more elaborated but it is being marketed as a small book. Actually it’s a short story or novella. I’m not so sure I agree with that, but it’s a good thing that as readers we are given a choice on whether we want to pick up the book (which is cute) or get the electronic version. Nevertheless I enjoyed it and wished it was longer.
The Embassy of Cambodia is the story of Fatou a live-in maid and baby-sitter that is working for a wealthy Arab family living in Willesden, which is a borough of Brent in North West London. They have taken her passport so she isn’t really free. Every afternoon Fatou steals free passes from a drawer in the hallway (which no one notices) to go to the Olympic sized swimming pool in town, where she passes the Cambodian Embassy. There she swims laps and observes the people around her. The book is only 69 pages and composed of 21 chapters, which are labeled 0-1, 0-2, etc. Each chapter is a look into Fatou’s life and a critique of society. Smith’s writing is minimalist but brilliant. She manages to tell this story with very few words and the meaning somehow shines through. That’s the genius of Smith’s writing. Smith touches on many themes such as religion, relationships between men and women, the plight of modern-day slaves, social class, illegal immigrants, etc. I’m thrilled to have picked this one up but as it was so short I was left wanting to know more about Fatou. Henceforth the problem I have with reading short stories. I recommend this one to lovers of Zadie Smith. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of the Smith experience, I suggest On Beauty since it is a story with a more typical story line, although I don’t think it’s one of her best works. As a whole, On Beauty is more accessible. The Embassy of Cambodia can be acquired gratuitously on the internet. I decided to pick it up because Zadie Smith is becoming one of my favourite authors and I wanted the physical book. So what about you? Are you a fan of Zadie Smith? If so what have you read from her that you liked? I’m due to read NW, hopefully before the end of the year.