Review: In Darkness by Nick Lake


Title: In Darkness

Author: Nick Lake

Published: Bloomsbury  Feb 012

Synopsis: In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone.
‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free . . .

Status: Read from February 18 to 19, 2012 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

In Darkness is an ambitious and powerful novel of Haiti’s troubled past and present. Lake alternates the life story of fifteen year old Shorty, trapped under rubble after the 2010 earthquake, with the history of Touissaint L’Ouverture, a man who led the country in a revolution. Lake explores the darkness within, both characters whose lives have strong parallels despite the pair being separated by centuries.

I was immediately drawn in by the spectacularly moving opening of the story. Shorty, is buried under tons of rubble when the hospital collapses in an earthquake. In the pitch black, surrounded by the dead, desperately thirsty Shorty recalls the poverty, violence and deprivation of his childhood in the slums of Haiti. Delving into his memories is a painful and confronting experience, irrevocably altered by witnessing the brutal slaying of his father, and the loss of his twin sister, Shorty’s brief life has been unimaginably hard. In the encampment, which the author assures us is an accurate depiction of the environment, death is a constant presence and now facing his own mortality entombed by cement and darkness Shorty has the time to reflect on his circumstance and the choices he has made.
As Shorty drifts in darkness, his plea to the voodoo guides results in his essence being entertwined with that of Touissaint L’Ouverture, a creole salve who led a rebellion in the late 1700’s. I have to admit that I did not find this narrative as compelling as Shorty’s. It is a crucial element of the story but it lacks the immediacy of Shorty’s plight. The connections between Shorty and Touissaint slowly become more tangible with comparisons between the social, cultural, and political of Haiti in both the past and the present. While Shorty has become mired in the disadvantages of his life, Touissaint’s story shows how one can overcome, and it is his story that lends Shorty strength even as he is convinced he will die amongst the wreckage.

A powerful and moving story there is a disturbing amount of truth in this fiction. In Darkness is a startlingly original novel but it is not an easy read. It is an intense, brutally honest story that reveals a country and people caught in a vicious cycle of prejudice and poverty.

Available To Purchase

Australia: @BoomerangBooks I @Booktopia I @A&U

International: @ Amazon I @Book Depository

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. miki
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 05:55:30

    definitively not for me , i ‘m too emotional for this one



  2. Sam (Tiny Library)
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 07:02:34

    I’ve seen a few documentaries about Haiti and their history is so fascinating but tragic. I hadn’t heard about this book but think I would really like it, so thanks for reviewing it 🙂



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Feb 22, 2012 @ 09:34:24

      I know very little about Haiti, apart from half remembered earthquake coverage so it was all quite new to me.



  3. Sue Gerth
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 10:32:15

    How creepy: I was working today, and picked this book up off the shelf in our teen section. It looks like something I may have to read because it is so different. Thanks for the review!



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Feb 23, 2012 @ 13:45:22

      There is both a YA version and an adult version Sue which I think is interesting. Mine was the adult version which I believe is just a bit more explicit.



  4. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 10:53:15

    I completely agree with all the points you’ve raised about this one, Shelleyrae. The concept is brilliant, and it’s certainly a gut-wrenching read, but I too struggled to connect with L’Ouverture’s sections. I didn’t find Shorty very sympathetic either, so although I appreciated the skill and talent of this one I didn’t quite have the emotional response I wanted. It’s definitely worth the read, though!



  5. VeganYANerds
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 12:51:30

    Great review, I got goosebumps reading about Shorty being trapped. I will definitely keep an eye out for this book



  6. Lindsey
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 14:39:42

    Have you read PIgeon English?The synopsis reminded me of that book somewhat. It’s about a young boy who immigrated from Ghana with his family to urban England. It was one of my favorite books from 2011.



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