An Untamed State– Roxane Gay

My coworker Denise recommended this novel for me after I told her about the book I read on Barbados. Her recommendation came highly and didn’t disappoint.

An Untamed State is the story of a Haitian-American woman, Miri, who is kidnapped in Haiti on a trip with her family. She assumes her release will be quick, since her father is one of the few rich men in the country. Unfortunately, Miri is mistaken and endures hellacious treatment for the next thirteen or so days. The book follows her through the kidnapping and the months following release. I personally found the road to recovery most fascinating as Miri tries to remember who she is and how the people in her former life fit in now. She rethinks everything since her father wouldn’t negotiate and pay her kidnappers. When it comes to her husband, the trauma from her repeated rape makes her not trust and feel less. She’s even afraid of her holding her baby boy because she feels so dirty and doesn’t want to ruin his innocence.

To deal, Miri turns to an unlikely source for help: her in-laws. She moves in with them and helps out and overtime gets a little better. To me, it’s almost like she had to start over with new parents in order to begin to move on.

One of the best elements in this book is the insane juxtapositions author Roxane Gay weaves into the story. There’s poor vs. rich, beauty vs. brutality, man vs. woman, being a daughter vs. a mother. Each of these makes the story more intense, complex, interesting and real. My only complaint about the story is some of the flashbacks Miri presents with her husband. I think it was a little excessive how in love they supposedly are. But maybe that’s just the cynic in me.

When it comes to Haiti, I was interested to see if kidnappings were as prevalent as stated in the book. From a cursory search, it does seem that violent crime is a real fear in Haiti. However, I didn’t necessarily find anything that suggests kidnappings for ransom are as popular as the book makes it. Either way, I think visiting areas so close to the US but with such a radically different landscape are important. I hope to visit Haiti one day.

One last thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Traveling is different for women. This world is different for women. The fears I live with as a young woman will never be known by a man.

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