A few weeks ago, I picked up Dany Laferriere's memoir of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Tout Bouge Autour de Moi (The World Turns Around Me). It's an amazing book, full of powerful, palpable, personal description. At one point, a nephew, also named Dany, insists he not write about the earthquake - that the elder Dany's Haiti is done, over writing about, and this is his Haiti, his topic. Elder Dany points out there are as many ways to write an experience as there are experiences - endless.
In search of more information about the quake and in particular, the failure of aid to improve Haiti's lot, especially with the recent hurricane Now also a factor, I turned to the half memoir, half reportage of Jonathan Katz's The Big Truck That Went By. Katz's book is a) by a "blan" - an outsider - and so has more distance (for better and worse) but also b) is the story of him living through the quake - including serious PTSD - as he was embedded there before and after the fact.
Reading these two side by side, especially with the Clintons currently in so much limelight, is a potent experience politically. I feel a lot of rage towards bureaucracy (which I know is like wrestling tofu), and so much sadness for a nation I have always felt a connection to, and curiosity about, through Laferriere's writing, as well as approximate francophonie.
But as this is a memoir blog, I wanted also to encourage this kind of reading - two very different writers with similar politics but totally different voices; who fill in different experiences at the same time. It is completely enriching, and reminds me of back in the day when I had more time and would read an author's entire ouvre back-to-back, or read many kinds of books on one topic at a time. Even if it is only two, though, if they are well selected, is deeply powerful.
A passage each from both, both of which relate to memoir and experience.
A Short Film
I'm spending so much time on the moments that preceded the explosion because it’s impossible to recreate the event itself. It lives within us in too intimate a fashion. No distance is possible with those kinds of emotions. The moment is eternally present. We remember the very instant before in the slightest detail. A short film where people are laughing, crying, talking, fighting, kissing, getting upset because the other guy is late, eating, begging, saying hello, setting a meeting for tomorrow or later in the evening, swearing to the other person that you won’t lie to them any more, or steal or kill or torture or make promises you have no intention of keeping, consoling someone who just lost a loved one, lying on a hospital deathbed, playing soccer, coming to Port-au-Prince for the first time or leaving the country (an airplane has just taken off). All these small acts bind us together and weave the great cloth of humanity. At 4: 53 in the afternoon, our memory trembled.
And yet, Katz does it, goes right back to the direct moment. Same event, totally different mind and memory. Katz:
What do you do in one of those? A doorway. Something about a doorway. I walked toward it but for some reason kept going into the hall. Then everything shoved. I lowered myself, or maybe I fell. Then a shove came the other way. Then another, and another. Suddenly the house was an airplane in a storm. Everything was falling...there was a contest between the up and down and the side to side. Who was going to shove harder, the up and down, or the side to side? They were both winning.
Both authors use a lot of simplicity in their writing - and both have a great sense of humor. And yet, beyond that and some similar feelings about aid, their styles and lives differ greatly. Reading more than one story - especially more than one personal story - reminds me how important it is to never fall for the danger of a single story - my own or anyone else's.