The Ending of What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J. A. Chancy

Summary

What Storm, What Thunder is a fictional novel by Myriam J. A. Chancy. It is primarily set during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. We follow the entwined lives of Richard, Anne, Leopold, Sonia, Dieudonné, Didier, Sara, Taffia, Olivier, Jonas, and Ma Lou. While the earthquake and its impact is at the center of the story, Chancy weaves the story through time so that we can get to know the characters, learn about their lives – their struggles, successes and what drives them. Because many of the characters know each other and had intersecting lives, each one reveals details of other characters. We learn their secrets and the compromises they make for a chance for survival and even success.

Verdict

This story is beautifully woven, creating a rich tapestry of the lives of the characters. Class differences and societal issues are subtly woven into the story. We experience the resilience and their heartache of the people.

There are multiple layers that reveal not just the life of the characters but also elements of the structure of the society. While the author writes in English, she adds in some French for spice. Not everything is translated to English but anything crucial is and that doesn’t detract from the impact of What Storm, What Thunder.

Everything below this point is a spoiler.

book cover for What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J. A. Chancy

Ma Lou

The story starts and ends with Ma Lou. She was a widower, a market woman. Her husband, Lou, was a vodooist while she was a Catholic but he has passed away. She starts off the book with reflections on her mother and her husband who have both passed. She remembers the festival of the waterfall, Saut d’Eau, which devotees visit on pilgrimage to heal and renew themselves. Her mother died on a festival day and she thought of going to Saut d’Eau to bury her mother’s bones. She remembered her husband’s stories that she was the answer to his request to the Gods made on a visit there. Local lore told of the power of the goddess of the falls.

After the earthquake, it took a long time for Ma Lou to grieve. She thought about the fear that the earthquake caused in everyone:

We’d lost our legs — sea legs, land legs, the ability to stand up for ourselves.

Ma Lou paid witness to the earthquake, to the suffering and devastation of it. She paid witness to the stories of the survivors, listening to their tales, helping them find some peace.

When the city tried to move the cemetery, Ma Lou dug up the bones of her people. She got arrested for doing that but got to keep the bones. Two year after the earthquake, Anne returned to bury them with her.

Sara

Sara is the second person we meet. She grew up as an orphan, cared for by her grandmother. When her grandmother sent her to live with her aunt and uncle in the city, it was for her own good, for a chance at a better future.

Sara married Olivier, a man with expensive tastes and who liked space. She discovered a taste for this when they got married. Their house was in a better neighborhood than her aunt and uncle, and the space was all for themselves. It was more than she ever imagined having.

Sara had three children, one after the other. She took care of the children as they went to school, came home, did homework. On the day of the earthquake, they went to play with their friends. The two daughters were found dead under a neighbor’s house. Her son Jonas was found injured and had to have his leg amputated, his body mutilated.

Sarah couldn’t bear to look at Jonas, keeping busy. An old man, Loco, brought water and left it outside the tent every day. Ma Lou helped her take care of the lesions that appeared on Jonas’ stump.

Olivier used to call Sara roseau, a reed, due to her resilience. However, she could not adjust to living in a camp for internally displaced people. After the earthquake, she wondered why she hadn’t kept her children at home.

After the earthquake, after her husband Olivier left, Sara didn’t take care of herself. She felt like an old woman and thought of cutting her hair. The only thing stopping her was thinking that it might be the only way for Olivier to recognize her if he came back because she’d lost so much weight. She avoided washing in case her children tried to get back to her and the other women in the camp bathed and clothed her.

Sara started to feel her children’s presence. The third time when she felt a tug on her elbow, it also tickled her feet. She wondered if it was her child or a spirit trying to bring her to the darkness and decided to find out.

Sara got salt, 6 small plastic bowls, fresh rain water, and a candle. She placed a half teaspoon of salt in 3 of them and fresh water in the other three. This was a test because malevolent ghosts would play with the salt water and others would go to the fresh water. Once the trap was set, she pretended to sleep to see what would happen.

When Sara felt a tug, she opened her eyes. She saw her little girl playing with the fresh and salty water. Two pairs of hands were playing in the water. She did not see her grandmother nor Olivier. She felt a third who had left 6 weeks prior but didn’t see him. Sara spoke, apologizing for running away when their broken bodies were found. People from other tents called to her to be quiet, while Loco defended her. When the tent caught on fire as a string swung into the flame, others from the camp cut into the tent to rescue her.

Jonas

Jonas was Sara’s oldest child. He used to run errands for many of the people in his neighborhood, including Ma Lou. On the way home from buying an egg at the market from Ma Lou, he stopped to watch a soap opera at the home of a widow. When the earthquake hit, he got seriously injured and buried in the rubble.

As Jonas was rescued, his father appeared and carried him to the hospital. Jonas had a leg amputated and when he was released from the hospital, Olivier brought him home. Olivier showed Sara how to administer the medicine and left after 2-3 weeks. Within weeks, Jonas died.

Dieudonné

Dieudonné was a fixer who could find anything for anyone. He preferred men and considered Sonia like his sister. He got the best fruits from Ma Lou for the Hotel de la Montagne Noire, delivered by Jonas before sunrise. On the fateful day, he had a premonition and said “Something is going to happen to that boy, to all of us.” He didn’t know what but he and Sonia had left the hotel and were going to get on the motorbike when the earthquake hit. They watched the hotel crumble on itself.

Sonia

Sonia was Dieudonné’s business partner, and they were a lot alike. When the two met, they told each other their story. She wanted to be a rich man’s mistress but not wife and wished for no children. Dieudonné would look out for her. He wanted a rich man’s house with a chosen family.

In the pursuit of her dreams, Sonia worked as a prostitute for rich men, using the money to help her parents and family. When she was not working, she chose women who also chose her. She and Dieudonné were like siblings, meant for each other.

That fateful morning, Sonia saw a man staring at her, smirking, holding a cane with a duck or swan head with two red jewels for eyes, Gede, the god of death. He appeared and disappeared throughout the day. It confirmed something was wrong, and both she and Dieudonné felt it in their bones.

They felt unsafe in the hotel but had no idea what might be wrong. They were worried about her brother, Paul, who had been molested by a priest as a child.

Richard

Richard is Ma Lou’s son, Anne’s father, Dieudonné’s cousin. He was very smart and qualified for a boarding school. From then, he distanced himself from his mother. The gulf grew once he left Haiti for the US, as he turned his back on the life he knew and built a new life. He married an American, Patricia, and they had two children.

Richard was obsessed with water, and Patricia first got his attention by drinking the same Swiss water that he had drunk as his first bottled water. On a trip to Haiti, he sells French bottled water.

Patricia and Richard fought often due to his attempts to dominate her and her resistance to that. When Patricia found out that Richard had a child that he had never told her about back in Haiti, she requested a divorce. Anne was the daughter that he never publicly acknowledged.

When Anne’s mother died, she reached out to him for the first time, somehow getting Patricia’s number and leaving a message on her phone. Richard wasn’t sure how she got the number but he decided to return to Haiti for the funeral.

In Haiti, Richard was swimming in the sea, imaging accepting his daughter and introducing her to his children, and thinking of another chance with Patricia when the earthquake striked. At first he can’t make sense of it. By the time he realizes what is happening, he’s lost his grip on the world and darkness envelops him.

Anne

Anne knew of her father and kept in touch with his mother but she never officially met Richard. He paid for her schooling and arranged for some internships for her in the US but didn’t build any relationship with her. She remembered seeing her father once as a child, from a distance, as Dieudonné drove to her school and parked at a distance so her father, his cousin, could see her. Dieudonné had waved then but neither she nor her father moved towards each other before Dieudonné drove way.

Anne was in Kigali and it took a few days before she found out about the earthquake. Her friend Lucien had driven her father on the day of the earthquake and confirmed his death. Given her background in architecture and realizing that most of her contacts in Haiti who could help rebuild were gone, she went back to help. She lived with her grandmather Ma Lou’s. Ma Lou’s house sat on a small hill and was unscathed from the earthquake.

Anne collected stories from the people in the camp, but her grandmother Ma Lou eventually suggested she leave. The stories were draining her and she could no longer sleep. She went back to work in Kigali.

About 2 years later, the information from Haiti was gone, difficult to find online. She dreamed of the design of the cathedral to rebuild. Then her colleague, the same one who’d told her of the earthquate, told her of a competition for it. She entered the competition for hope for the future

When Anne returned to the island, it was to bury the bones of her family with her grandmother. She and Ma Lou went to the spot where her father was washed away. They paid their respects to the dead.

Leopold

Leopold was from Trinidad before moving up and down the islands. Then Haiti seemed a great option for drugs, and he decided to check it out, the place where his mother was originally from.

He sold narcotics and often hang around the hotel for customers. He built his business over time and rarely did the direct sales any longer. He tried to get Jonas to deliver a package for him from the hotel but Dieudonne would not allow it. He was attracted to Sonia but her closeness with Dieudonne held him back from approaching her.

As a child, Leopold’s mother sent him to the beach with a guide one night in March. He was fascinated by sea turtles after seeing the hatchlings. Then, he thought of being a marine biologists. However, 4 years later he was poaching the eggs, trying to make money to get out. He was in the elevator when the earthquake struck and as the elevator plummeted, he remembered the hachlings, how they could survive water pressure. The car plummeted and then crumpled on him. He could see through a gap in the door that other people were injured or dead. He could not figure out what was happening before the elevator started to shake.

In the crumpled elevator, Leopold thought about his life. Two of his children lived with his Uncle George and he saw them on holidays; they didn’t know he was their father. There was one daughter, Mathilde, whom he got to know and spent time with. He left her an envelope with money every time he visited.

Leopold survived the earthquake. After his rescue, he changed his life around. He went back to church, reformed, became vegetarian, appreciated living and stayed away from everyone but his children and his mother. He didn’t believe in God but he was thankful even though he was undeserving.

Taffia

Taffia is Sonia’s younger sister and the older sister of Paul. She learned a lot of what she knew from telenovelas. She lived in the camp for internally displaced people after the earthquake. Some neighborhood boys tried to get her attention but she ignored them or resisted their interests. The atmosphere was hard for young women, for example a popular song said that if a boy buys a girl a drink for 12 cents and peanut butter for 12 cents, she owes him a dance or more. One night, three men attacked and raped her.

Taffia never told anyone about the rape, even when the volunteers who talked to survivors asked her about rape. She kept the secret even when she found out she was pregnant. She had the baby but found it hard to be with him.

The feeling uniting dream and pain lasts eternally, but you yearn for the return to a blank space, the in-between suspension between the two before they came to be joined

Didier

In 2019, Didier was living in Boston. He drove a taxi for work and enjoyed making music. One time, he did a job for his friend Guy after Guy begged him to drive the taxi. When he showed up at the pickup point, men came and attacked the car before attacking him, calling him the n word. They cracked his ribs. He later found out that he was set up, that Guy knew what was going to happen and deliberately sent him there. Guy’s only apology was to give him a puppy.

When Didier thought about his siblings, he remembered Paul’s attraction to the Makout and their guns, and how he wanted to be a cowboy. He knew Sonia’s profession and though that Taffia was the only one he might be able to save. With that in mind, he created a song for her, a cassette which he sent to Haiti with a visitor.

At the end of a day’s work, Didier had picked up a girl for a hookup and was driving to her house when he found out about the earthquake on the news. He slept with the girl, an immigrant like him but from Bangladesh. The had a few moments of connection although she didn’t quite seem to understand the depth of his response to the tragedy and his inablity to reach anyone in Haiti.

Olivier

Olivier loved his wife, Sara. Before the earthquake, he was an accountant who worked for the Hotel as well as other clients. In the camp, he listened to the despair and the pain of women, watched the cuts of the tents that signalled break-ins and overnight abuse. There was nothing he could do. Eventually, he left the camp, leaving Sara to care for Jonas.

Olivier was trying to get back to Sara when he was beaten by some young men, one of which looked like Paul. He was lucky that some people came across them and the men dispersed. He timed it exactly knowing the truck schedules and committed suicide by flinging himself in front of a passing truck.

The Ending of the Story

The story ends two years after the earthquake with Ma Lou, Sara, Anne, Sonia, Taffia and the baby. They went together to the sacred waterfall, Saut d’Eau. There, they annoint Ma Lou’s bag of bones, asking Wede to take a away the pain. It’s a chance for all of them to say goodbye and give thanks for the cycles of life and death.

On the way back to Port-au-Prince, Anne stops at the resort where her father died. It’s a private resort so Sonia, Anne and Ma Lou go in to have lunch and order a drink; they send food to the others waiting in the car. They sit close to the water to say their goodbyes.

The last stop is Ma Lou’s village, where they bury the bones. The pilgrimage ends there. As Anne touches Ma Lou’s face, Ma Lou weeps for her dead and the other lost people.

For all of them, for us, with Anne’s palm against my mouth, I weep.

Note that Amazon Links are affiliate links. This means that I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases made at Amazon if you use this link to make a purchase.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: