"The World is Moving Around Me" by Dany Laferrière
On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit the island nation of Haiti. It is estimated that three million people were affected by the quake and approximately 220,000 people lost their lives. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, infrastructure was severely damaged or destroyed and people took to the streets to sleep because their homes were lost or for fear of aftershocks.
Dany Laferrière is a Montreal-based playwright and author who grew up in Haiti and fled the Duvalier dictatorship in the 1970's. At the moment the earthquake struck he was sitting in a Port-au-Prince hotel restaurant waiting for his dinner to be served. He and his dinner companions heard an explosion, which they originally thought came from the kitchen, but in the few seconds that followed realized it was an earthquake and fled the hotel for open-air safety. In the days that followed, Laferrière travelled the city to make sure friends and family members were safe then accepted the Canadian government's offer to leave. But once in Canada he couldn't escape the post-traumatic shock of an earthquake and knew he had to return to his homeland.
The World Is Moving Around Me is Laferrière's memoir of the earthquake, his life in Haiti, and the strength, courage, and resilience of the Haitian people. The writing of this book is beautiful. It doesn't read like a typical memoir. Each "chapter" is very brief, not even a page long and is more of an observation.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, he kept extensive notebooks of everything he saw and heard and this book feels like he's allowing you access to personal writings. After reading the book I learned that it was originally published in French and was released a few weeks after the earthquake, which shows just how quick he wrote the book. It's a sign of true writing talent that amidst the struggle to recover he was able to write such beautiful words.
Though this book is short, it is powerful. Laferrière relates stories of triumph, survival, and heartbreak. He shows the Haitian people and the earthquake not through the lens of the media like was saw for only a few weeks until another news story replaced them, but through the eyes of the people. It really hits home that while we were watching events unfold on our television screens, people there didn't even know how far it had reached, the extent of the damage, and if people down the road from them were safe.
This is a moving book. With a foreword by Michaëlle Jean, former Governor General of Canada and UN special envoy to Haiti, this is a book that puts Haiti back into our hearts and minds where it belongs.