This rambling memoir is by turns hilarious, sentimental, philosophical, and outraged. Writing the book for his children, Germain details growing up in poverty in his native Haiti, his unlikely trek to Mexico for medical school, and his even more unlikely success as a doctor in New York City. Germain veers among lengthy and loving digressions about his family, Haiti’s historic economic oppression, and random memories of his friends. Anecdotes about voodoo ceremonies and slaves’ ghosts haunting his childhood house are sprinkled in with matter-of-fact frankness. A pugnacious yet upbeat tone keeps the free-flowing anecdotes fascinating.
The narrative structure of this book is loose, at times circular. Germain’s stories fragment, repeat themselves, and often follow no particular order or organization. English is the author’s fourth language, and he sometimes plays fast and loose with its grammar, but his voice is clear and authoritative as he calls out the virulent nature of colonialism throughout the world. Germain spells out his experiences with prejudice, discussing colorism and ideas of “good hair” in Haiti and America. He also includes a long, unsparing, and powerful rant on how France engineered Haiti’s poverty after a slave revolt and independence, illustrating his denunciations with graphs and financial breakdowns.
While decrying racism and colonialism, Germain never fails to express gratitude for his long, lucky, and successful life. He recounts several fortuitous events, such as the time that buying cupcakes for his daughter’s class prevented him from being killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He cheerily notes that “Haitians have already paid for their sins being in Haiti and being Haitian,” which grants them “a pass straight to heaven.” Germain’s combination of hard-won wisdom, resigned cynicism, and infectious optimism makes his memoir unpredictable and exciting.
Takeaway: Readers interested in Haiti’s cultural and economic history will find laughs and inspiration in this memoir of survival and success.
Great for fans of Flore Zéphir’s The Haitian Americans, Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying.
Production grades Cover: B Design and typography: B Illustrations: A Editing: C Marketing copy: B