In Darkness by Nick Lake

Cover of In Darkness by Nick Lake

"In Darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me.
      One: I am alive,
      Two: there is no two."

In Darkness, by Nick Lake, is set in Haiti immediately after the devastating earthquake of 2010. It is the story of Shorty, a boy who has grown up in a violent slum of Port-au-Prince called The Site. But Shorty's life is somehow interwoven with the spirit of Touissant l'Ouverture, visionary leader of Haiti's slave revolution of 1791 to 1803.

Shorty awakens in absolute darkness after the earthquake. He was in the hospital for treatment of a bullet wound and is now buried in the rubble. As he waits and hopes for rescue, he recounts the story of his childhood. His has been a hard life. He has shot people and been shot. He describes a complex world, where in the wake of dysfunctional government and ineffective aid agencies, the only source of food, medical care and schooling for the people of the slums are the gangsters and drug traffickers who also perpetuate a culture of violence. The backdrop for Shorty's struggle to survive is Touissant's efforts to lead the slaves of Haiti to freedom. The two have much more in common than you would think.

This is, as you can guess by the title, a dark story. It provides a glimpse into the lives of those who live in one of the poorest and most violent areas of the world. The Site is a place where life is cheap and hope is in short supply. Violence and voudou are major themes in this story. But so are freedom, the nature of humanity, and the struggle to build a better life. Touissant works to build a prosperous and just society. Shorty is trying to find and rescue his missing twin sister. Be warned, this is an intense and disturbing book. But it is well worth reading.