|An Untamed State
"Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bodies."
Roxane Gay is a powerful new literary voice whose short stories and essays have already earned her an enthusiastic audience. In An Untamed State, she delivers an assured debut about a woman kidnapped for ransom, her captivity as her father refuses to pay and her husband fights for her release over thirteen days, and her struggle to come to terms with the ordeal in its aftermath.
Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.
An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places. An Untamed State establishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.
Wow, just wow. This book is very powerful, cruel and terror inducing. After reading this, you might never leave home again. If you know anything about my tastes (from reading this blog, or just knowing me), you'll know why a book like this will shine for me. Not because I need to be shocked but I need to "feel" something, when a book elicits an emotion (good or bad), the Author is doing something right. Roxane Gay did everything right with "An Untamed State", so much that I even had tears in my eyes and even had quite a few gasping moments (which is VERY unlike me, it takes a lot to make me upset).
Roxane writes so believable, I could feel way too much of what the main character was going through (it was that good). I almost wished the Author didn't have that talent due to the graphic nature of the novel (although, I think that was the idea, to get through to you in that way). The main character, Mireille is a privileged woman who lives a pretty "normal" life with a caring husband and a beautiful new baby. She was born in Haiti but the family moved to the United States during her early childhood. The parents decided to move back to Haiti when the kids had grown up and the family business was booming. Although the family comes from Haiti, Mireille considers herself an American with Haitian parents. The family has an enormous compound in Haiti and will never be "without" (which is a stark contrast to the majority of residents of Haiti). Mireille's friends don't understand her origins very well, thinking Haiti to only be the one depicted on the news (poor and crippled).
Her world falls apart when she is kidnapped (right in front of her family compound in Haiti), and things grow darker when her father refuses to pay the ransom, thinking if he gives in, the kidnappers will just come back and take another member of his family. Her husband, not having the money to pay the kidnappers, tries to find another way to find Mireille. The worst part, Mireille is so proud and strong, she doesn't give into the kidnappers demands of her and she ends up suffering at the hands of her captors because of it. She suffers some unimaginable things and almost everything you CAN imagine. Part of the skewed beauty of the story is the main character discovering the other side of Haiti, even though the circumstances, kidnapping, aren't ideal for a sociology lesson.
Before reading this book, I was very unaware that Haiti was so dangerous. I've heard of kidnapping cases but didn't know what countries and areas they were prevalent in. An Untamed State really opened my eyes to certain things, I learned quite a bit about a place that I knew only by name. This book also made me search within myself, asking if I would have been strong enough, if I would have survived? How would I have coped with the situation after? The entire situation is so far removed from my life and yet... It had me thinking and trying to relate in ways I couldn't fathom. One of my favorite parts of the book was the relationship that formed with Mireille and her Mother In-Law, both when Mireille came and stayed to nurse her back to health and then when she herself was nursed back to health. I found that relationship comforting and true, the way her Mother In-Law treated her before she truly got to know her. I'm always fascinated when characters go through a transformation in their way of thinking (especially in this case), being weary of someone who comes from a different culture but coming around in the end and seeing that everyone has feelings that are not unlike our own.
I'd like to say this book should be read by everyone, but I know there will be those who won't be able to handle it. This book will make you feel dirty and it will hurt to read it, but I'm still going to recommend it to everyone who I think can stomach it. Roxane Gay brings up so many topics that are gritty and challenging, she wants us to really look inside the deepest, dark parts of ourselves and come out with a little clarity. I think I've come out with a better understanding of Haiti, human trafficking, bondage, rape, kidnapping and how far a human mind can go before snapping. So, if you think you can stomach a few scenes within the book that will make you queasy, then you should read this book and learn from it (more about yourself and the world around you). Step out of the bubble and join us in the land of uncomfortable ideas, I believe it's important to feel squirmy about things every now and then.