Chriscile Leger and her two sons, Hans and Junior, live a privileged life inside the walls of their mansion, as her husband, Edouard, is the Minister of Finance of Haiti. The children are chauffeured to school, eat at expensive restaurants and play around their private swimming pool, tended to by their maids and butler. When Hans is 14, his chauffeur stops to make a purchase in a very populated part of town, and it opens Hans eyes to the way of life on some parts of his island that he was sheltered from all his life. He is scared by all the sights and not so pleasant smells of piles of garbage strewn everywhere; overcrowded streets, filled with peddlers, flies covering every pile of dirt and dust; and the intolerable stench. Through all the filth, he notices a 15-year old girl, and a toddler among the rubbish, and he is drawn to her. Determined to find her, he skips school the next day, only to witness an act of prostitution in the same neighborhood he was in the day before. The prostitute girl is the girl he had seen and come looking for. He develops a friendship with her that day, and spends the whole day with her and her son.
That night, he goes home and is punished by his father for skipping school, but who later, reads him and his brother, a bedtime story. That night begins the horror of his life, and as you read his novel, which reads more like a memoir than a fictional novel, it is heart-wrenching and incredible at the same time. After the bedtime story, there is a coup as soldiers rush into their house and attack them. The boys are made to watch as their father is brutally assassinated in their home; their mother is repeatedly raped and tortured; their servants are killed and their house destroyed. In a flash of luck, their mother is able to kill and disable two of the soldiers and escape in their car to the American Embassy, where they are granted asylum, and a few days later, come to America to live with their grandmother in Florida. One would think that this is a happy ending, and this family deserves a happy ending after what they have been through. But it is quite the opposite. In a way, their troubles are barely beginning, and using the word 'trouble' is just putting it very lightly.
In a country that is known all over the world for its 'freedom', Hans and his brother learn the hard way. They are bullied and beaten in school because of their accent by other African-American kids; they live in a one-story bungalow in a very poor neighborhood in Miami, and experience extreme hardship, while Chriscile and her mother struggle to pay the bills and put some food on the table. This is the mildest of the suffering that Hans goes through. As you read, the events unfold, like one nauseating wave of suffering after another, hitting you so hard, that when you barely have time to recover from one, you are hit with another. You find yourself hoping that he catches a break somewhere, and the ending will surprise you.
I found myself relating to parts of Haiti, as it resembled parts of India that I have seen and grown up around; I connected to some parts of being an immigrant, as I am one myself and the part that resonated most with me, was Hans' ability to overcome, to survive and to use his unique life experiences for good. Given the many, almost unreal, circumstances of his life, Hans could have given up on life a long time ago and he would have every valid reason to, but his strength, his determination, his resolve to become somebody and make his life better is inspiring! The book is written in a very conversational style, and is easy to read. The writing style is simple yet tells the poignant story. The transitioning is not the greatest but he introduces each section with a heading, then goes on to explain the setting/people. Hans Lindor has managed to address several things in this book in a very unassuming way: politics; human rights; lives of immigrants; human ability to overcome suffering and succeed and to give back to the community and to the world, to name a few.
I received a copy of this book for the purpose of review.