As I write this, in August 2021 in British Columbia, wildfires are ravaging the drought-ridden BC interior, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again, the Taliban has seized control and unleashed panic in Afghanistan, and Haiti, still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake, has been rocked by a 7.2-magnitude quake that has killed and injured thousands. Now Tropical Storm Grace has closed in on the Caribbean nation, making rescue efforts difficult if not impossible.
It’s hard, when events like these converge, to withstand the pull of despair. There are too many broken places in this world, in our societies, in ourselves.
Haitian-born Myriam J. A. Chancy (who lived in Canada before pursuing an academic career in the US) heard so many memorable stories from survivors of the 2010 quake in Haiti that she wrote a novel about the event. What Storm, What Thunder, out in Canada next month, concerns a constellation of characters affected by the disaster. There’s a compelling excerpt in the August edition of Harper’s magazine.
I pre-ordered the novel earlier this summer, before Haiti was pummelled again, and will read it the moment the book is in my hands—not just because it’s eerily topical now, and not just because the subject-matter aligns with my own novel (though both reasons are part of it), but because the only way I am ever able to fend off despair is to sneak up on, and try to understand, its sources. What does it feel like to live in an impoverished nation and have nature rain destruction on you, who surely deserve it least? How do you endure such a cataclysmic event? Does it crush you in the end? Or might it in some small way, or even a big way, make you stronger?
One reason to read fiction is that it creates a challenging yet safe space where we can face our fears and confront our despair. That’s also, I’ve discovered, one reason to write fiction as well.