In Roxane Gay's stark, powerful debut novel, An Untamed State, Mireille Duval Jameson's idyllic life is ripped apart when she is kidnapped for ransom in her wealthy parents' homeland of Haiti. To her captors, she is a symbol of the injustice of poverty and the imbalance of power in Haitian society, and they treat her thusly. Her captivity is an unending nightmare, and as Mireille begins to lose hope that anyone is coming to save her, she slowly casts off her identity as a means of survival.
Eventually, Mireille is freed, but her return home is far from joyous. Emotionally and physically shattered, Mireille is uncertain of who she is and convinced that she is irreparably broken. Her husband is distraught and frustrated at his ineptitude in helping the woman he loves, who has become a stranger. Mireille's struggle to regain some semblance of her former life is an excruciatingly difficult process, and at times, seemingly impossible.
An Untamed State is hard to read but impossible to put down. It highlights the fragility of flesh and just how easily our bodies are broken by abuse and pain. Yet it also highlights the remarkable resiliency of the will to survive.
And then, inexplicably, I thought about my friends in Miami, where Michael and I live, and how they would talk when news of the kidnapping reached them. I am a curiosity to my American friends—A Haitian who is not from the slums or the countryside, a Haitian who has enjoyed a life of privilege. When I talk about my life in Haiti, they listen to my stories as if they are fairy tales, stories that could not possibly be true by nature of their goodness.
My husband and I love to entertain, dinner parties. We cook fancy meals from Gourmet and Bon Appètit and drink expensive wine and try to solve the world's problems. At least we did this, in the before, when we were less aware of the spectacle we were and when we thought we had anything even remotely relevant to say about the things that tear the world apart.