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An Untamed State

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2014)
Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.

An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a wilful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places. An Untamed State establishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.

368 pages, Paperback

First published May 6, 2014

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About the author

Roxane Gay

120 books160k followers
Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects. Her newsletter, The Audacity, where she also hosts The Audacious Book Club, can be found at audacity.substack.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,048 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books160k followers
December 4, 2013
Pretty decent debut novel. Protagonist loves to exhale.
Profile Image for stacia.
96 reviews89 followers
February 8, 2014
People will tell you this book is about a kidnapping -- about the life before for its heroine, Mireille, and about the life after. People will tell you this book about Haiti -- about another lightning rod that divides asunder: class. It is about these things. It's about many other things, also. Depending on who you are, you may need a trigger warning, a stiff drink, a shower when you're reading (and after).

I just needed silence. And then I needed to talk. A lot. Not about the book, but about a ton of things I'd been bottling up. For me, this book was a call to action. It demands that you speak up.

For me, An Untamed State is about what a woman absorbs. It's about the things she keeps quiet to protect those she most ferociously loves. It's about a willingness to die and come back from the dead, to run and be brave enough to return.

Mireille emerges from 13 days of unimaginable, horrifying captivity (one captive woman, seven men. Whatever you're imagining, multiply it.) unable to ever reclaim the relatively benign, content life she had before. But in truth, before, the silences she kept and the fears were their own captivity. After, she was freer, her contentment deeper in many ways, and her loyalties, concerns, and communication more intentional.

There is something about surviving. It renders polite, protective silences completely futile, entirely absurd. And the people you need to become who you are need to be able to hear you scream.

Read this book, if you can. It will be difficult for sexual abuse survivors. Very difficult. But, should you be able to bear it, it will be a very important text.
Profile Image for Holly.
369 reviews68 followers
July 10, 2015
Disappointing read. Powerful subject matter reduced to Lifetime movie-worthy prose. Gay has a need to make every line a grand pronouncement, every scene worthy of a Tumblr "like." I found the book to be very emotionally manipulative (along the lines of a Nicholas Sparks novel). I hope no one confuses what I'm saying as a critique of emotions pursuant to kidnapping, or rape, or PTSD, or Miri's feelings about the horror she went through. I have no qualms with any of that. I am taking issue with the way Gay put all of this down on paper.

All we read were Miri's (jusifiable) feelings, in the moment, on her treatment and abuse. I wanted to see how Miri worked through it, really worked through it—emotionally. Gay relied far too much on dramatic, action-packed scenes—grabbing keys and sprinting away from the house and driving across the country (her purse and everything she needed magically appearing), running away through cornstalks, melodramatically rejecting Michael x10—and stark, repetitive phrases used so often and thrown around so haphazardly that they were almost superficial: "I am dead." "I do not want anything in my body." "I am dirty." The all-knowing deity Lorraine, who somehow understands everything Miri went through perfectly despite being characterized as a gruff, insensitive person the entire first half. But ok, we know how what she has gone through causes Miri to act and the things it causes her to say. For all of the time spent on Miri's actions and reactions, I never came out feeling like I understood how Miri felt, abstractly. We didn't get to see her work through anything, not really. Time passes. She reacts to things. She's still at the farm. Fast forward to going back to Haiti.

Adding to that, Michael and Miri were an unlikable, childish couple I found myself rooting against. I simply didn't believe in them. Couples fight; couples bicker; couples don't always see eye to eye. But there's a difference between difficult love and immature love. Miri is constantly actually throwing things, while Michael is constantly making rude, childish, and tactless remarks without any remorse or self-awareness. There was no romance or depth to the relationship. Sure, Gay can write a convincing sex scene. But so what?

An Untamed State is not a novel of privilege as it claims to be in numerous blurbs. Miri rarely even dwells on the subject for longer than a paragraph past a brief acknowledgement of how different she is from her captors and the majority of the Haitian population. I find it very manipulative to have billed the novel this way, and frankly, it kind of pisses me off. I was supremely more interested in reading the novel in the first place because of my interest in the privilege aspect.

One nitpick. I am attorney, and I have worked at an immigration law firm. You do not get rich off immigration law. You certainly don't get a bunch of glamour and big fancy houses and nannies from practicing immigration law. You extra-certainly can't abandon your cases for six months. Maybe Michael was the one raking it in so that they could have all those nice things, but the implication was that Miri made a lot of money.

This is almost scary to post among the overwhelming praise, but I feel how I feel. I enjoyed the book as a read, went through it fairly quickly, would have loved the ending if it didn't directly contradict everything we had just read about Miri's feelings of hopelessness. Everything isn't a grand pronouncement in life, not all the time. This book would have benefited from a softer hand and a better grasp on the subtleties that accompany trauma.
Profile Image for Debbie.
456 reviews2,907 followers
December 28, 2017
Favorite Book of the Year

Today I noticed a weird bruise on my finger. After talking myself down from a leukemia diagnosis, I finally figured out it was a Kindle-related injury. I had gripped my Kindle so hard while reading An Untamed State that I bruised my finger. That’s how powerful this book is—it can cause bruises! Puts a whole new meaning to the phrase, “this book is gripping!”

To quote another reviewer, what a mother-fucking masterpiece! The book grabs you immediately, and with each chapter tightens its grip on your time, your soul, your life (and your finger).

A young, rich Haitian woman named Mireille is kidnapped by a gang of men (one who is particularly sadistic) and is relentlessly raped and tortured for 13 days. The crimes they commit against her body become crimes against her mind and soul. She is surrounded by people who have morphed into animals, and she becomes an animal herself, her senses all finely tuned to impending danger from her predators. Gay describes what they are doing to Mireille in graphic detail at first, but soon after, she just hints at the specific atrocities. Gay leaves us to imagine the acts of violence without making us read about them; she spares us the gory details. Much appreciated, Roxane Gay.

I’m not a masochist or a voyeur. I don’t enjoy the horror of it all, but the story is so riveting I can’t stop reading. I want to, need to, see what happens. Gay makes Mireille pop off the page and land in our heart and soul. How in the hell does she pull that off? Mireille seems so real, so vivid, I have trouble remembering that this is a story, that this is make-believe, that this didn’t really happen. I want to be there for her. BE there for her? Christ, Debbie, she does not exist!! Get a grip (we know I have one). But such is the greatness of this portrayal.

The book made me think about how I would act if I were being tortured. Would I beg for mercy or would I stay strong, just so the torturers didn’t know how much they were breaking me? Mireille runs the gamut of reactions and emotions, and we squirm uncomfortably as her torturers take her, and us, to evil places we don’t want to know about, let alone experience.

In those 13 days of hell, Mireille reflects on the “Before,” so we learn about the idyllic life she had been living with her husband and young child. This back and forth between the calm, happy days and the unbearably painful and terrifying present works beautifully both structurally and emotionally. Just when we can’t take any more, we’re taken out of the fire and put into the sunny peace of the Before. When it’s all over, the terrible “After” begins, which is its own kind of hell. The After is just as intense, as Mireille tries to find the self of Before. When you enter the After with Mireille, you stay right with her as she flails through her personal hell. I believed every word, every one of her wails, every step that she took to try to escape from herself.

Three small things bothered me (which I hate to even bring up because this is a 10-star book in my opinion). One, I didn’t think her husband, Michael, was an asshole, like all the characters do. He didn’t really handle everything properly, but it was clear that he loved Mireille unconditionally. He didn’t know what to do—who would? So I guess I would have liked Gay either to make him seem like a worse guy, or to not make the characters so mad at him.

The second thing—I wanted better revenge on the animals who did this to her. I know this is politically incorrect, but it’s true. I wanted them to be hurt. I wanted them to feel pain.

The third issue has to do with the book’s incredibly great intro sentence:

“Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones. They held me captive for thirteen days. They wanted to break me. It was not personal. I was not broken. This is what I tell myself.”

I have trouble believing that Mireille would call her kidnappers “terrified.” I am not big enough to cut them any slack, to provide any excuses for their crimes, and I have trouble believing that Mireille would be able to either. I don’t want to understand the kidnappers; their crimes are inexcusable and unforgiveable. Would Mireille really be able to say that they were terrified, after the torture she experienced?

Two things are sure after finishing this book: I will never go to Haiti, and I will never look at PTSD in the same way. In my Before (the time before I read An Untamed State), I occasionally said things like “Oh, her PTSD is kicking in” when a friend got a little pissed off and I knew she had had a bad childhood. A marginally deprived childhood and a little anger is not what PTSD is about. It’s about someone enduring something so traumatic there is no possible way for us to understand it. People with PTSD lose a part of themselves that is never recoverable. After innocence about the goodness of the world is lost, it is gone gone gone. I’m in awe of anyone who can function with any semblance of normalcy after enduring unimaginable torture. I will never again talk lightly about PTSD. I’ve always felt horrible for a person who has PTSD, but after reading this book, I feel like crying when I think of someone being tortured and having to live with the memories.

The book is absolutely beautiful. Seriously, I don’t even have one editing nit. The book never lets up. I was a hostage, too. But there was no ransom. Only the joy of being held in the heart of this amazing piece of art. What a book. Oh what a book. I would give this 10 stars if I could. Favorite book of the year, maybe even favorite book ever. Hands down.
Profile Image for Crumb.
189 reviews539 followers
June 19, 2018
A profound and heart-achingly beautiful novel about one woman's journey through hell and back..

I have to start off by saying that this book is not for everyone. There are graphic, sexual assault scenes that could be triggering for certain individuals.

This book takes place in Haiti and it details a woman’s experience in captivity. In the beginning of the book, Gay sets a dark overtone for the reader immediately. The protagonist, Miri is dragged out of her car by armed men directly in front of her husband and child. Her captors notify Miri’s father that ransom is 1,000,000 U.S. dollars and that is final. Miri’s father is a man of great pride and doesn’t want to negotiate with "animals", thus refusing to pay his daughter's ransom. Thus begins Miri’s thirteen day imprisonment.

Although I gave this book five stars, it was not an easy read for me. There were moments where I needed to take a break. Then there were also moments in which I completely devoured it. Gay is skilled at balancing the narrative of the kidnapping with the narrative of Miri’s past life. As a reader, I was concerned that the whole book was going to be about Miri’s struggle in captivity. Let me tell you, it wasn’t. We learn about Miri’s childhood. We also learn about how she met her husband, Michael. In addition, we come to find out that she wasn’t accepted by her in-laws initially, because of the color of her skin.

In Haiti, kidnapping is apparently part of the culture. It is accepted. Isn't that revolting? I was also disgusted by the way Miri’s father handled the kidnapping. It made me infuriated. What father allows their baby daughter to be held captive, aware that there is a way to stop the nightmare, yet refuses? To me, that was the ultimate tragedy of this novel. The amount of violations and assaults on Miri's body could have been reduced, had her father paid the ransom when it was requested.

The unexpected relationship that Miri cultivated with her mother-in-law, Lorraine, almost moved me to tears. After Miri had been released from her captors, she stayed with her mother-in-law. Miri had so much rage built up inside of her and the beginning symptoms of PTSD that she felt safer with Lorraine rather than her husband, for obvious reasons. The relationship that developed between these two women was unexpected and so touching.

As mentioned, this was by no means an easy read, however it was a powerful read. Gay wrote about the dehumanization of the human spirit, and she did so with poise and sensitivity. Admittedly, there were times where I was extremely uncomfortable, as a woman, reading this novel. During Miri’s entrapment, we see her strength falter and crumble, however we also see her incredible courage and resilience in the face of inscrutable fear. As a result of reading this book, I realize that the resilience of the human spirit can not and should not be underestimated..

Highly, highly recommended.. This book is a testament to the strength and courage that all women are capable of.

For an Interview with Roxane Gay on an Untamed State, please click on the link.

In addition, this book is going to be made into a film! For me, it is important to read a book before I see the movie. Here are 7 reasons why Bustle thinks this film will be amazing. To view, click on the link provided.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews626 followers
September 9, 2017
Audiobook: narrated by Robin Miles.... [once again, I love Robin Miles: terrific narrator]

Mireille's father left the island of Haiti with nothing and returned with everything..... a wife, children, and wealth. It was easy for her father to overlook Haiti's painful truths- a country of poverty, corruption, heat...and even the gossip of how everyone was into everyone else's business. Mireille's mother remembered--she was resistant to return to Haiti.
However, Mireille's mother followed her husband's dreams, making his more important than considering having any of her own.

It wasn't until Mireille was is taken away from her own husband and child that she realized they were all going to pay the price for her father's dreams.
I thought back to this moment many times trying to figure out -- what does Mireille mean exactly? It was a question I sat with and continued to haunt me.

Mireille, Haitian American, is kidnapped by a gang of armed men in broad daylight - "caged" for thirteen days.
There are scenes in this book that are excruciating disturbing and horrifying intense!!

I actually finish this book about two weeks ago- wasn't ready to write about it. Now I can't stop thinking Haiti ( and the fear for Florida this weekend)...and the effects Hurricane Irma. Haiti couldn't have handle a category 5. They seemed to have escaped the worse of Hurricane Irma but flooding still continues.

With a pit in my stomach around Hurricane Irma - it's hard to think of anything else this weekend - with our own daughter just 3 miles away from a zone that had a mandatory evacuation yesterday.
At the same time:
I admire Roxanne Gay. This was her *1st* novel - not without flaws - but written with purpose and heart. At times I drifted from the audiobook- the 2nd half was better - but overall... it was a great first novel!!
She honored WOMEN!!!! It's the female characters in this story stood out- they were the ones we cherished!

3.7 stars rounding up

Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,487 reviews7,787 followers
October 23, 2017
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

“Once upon a time, my life was a fairy tale and then I was stolen from everything I’ve ever loved. There was no happily ever after. After days of dying, I was dead.”

You ever find yourself wanting to read something that makes you look a little like this . . .

Houston commercial photography

If so, then An Untamed State might be the book for you.

While vacationing at her parents’ mansion in Haiti, Mireille and her husband decide to take their baby to the beach. Once their car is past the safety of the gates they find themselves surrounded by armed men and Mireille is kidnapped. Over the course of 13 days Mireille is terrorized while waiting for her father to pay the demanded ransom – which he refuses to do on principal.

This is the story of one woman’s struggle to survive and the price she paid in order to do so . . .

“The body adapts, but the mind has limits.”

Who else didn’t like this book? Just me??? Alrighty then . . . .

Houston commercial photography

Oh wait, I see Licha over there waiting for me in the shame corner.

To me, An Untamed State read like the “movie of the week” version of a torture story. While I’m quite aware that kidnappings like these take place frequently, it was more than a bit farfetched for me to believe that Mireille and her husband would be venturing out of the family’s compound for a leisurely day at the beach. Buuuuuut, I looked past that and continued on to read not only about the brutality Mireille faced during the time she was held captive, but also for a trip down memory lane where I learned about her upbringing as well as how her relationship with her husband and his family evolved. That’s where things got a little too “Lifetimey” for me. Mireille was presented as pretty much a straight-up b*&^% with a “my way or the highway” approach to life due to her father’s attitude while she was growing up (which, of course, translates to her "never let 'em see you sweat" attitude while she is abducted). You learn how she married a real “cowboy” (complete with bigoted parents – yay /endsarcasm) and how she eventually won the hearts of the entire family (which really became a bit too big of a pill to swallow for me upon her return to the states after the kidnapping and caused excessive rolling of the eyeballs). Everyone else seemed to love this book, but to me it was mediocre chick-lit with some shock and awe factor thrown in that made readers run straight to the bookstore.

And speaking of shock and awe:
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,608 reviews5,998 followers
November 30, 2014
Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.
They held me captive for thirteen days.
They wanted to break me.
It was not personal.
I was not broken.
This is what I tell myself.

So begins this book. Mireille and her husband Michael along with her toddler son are visiting her family in Haiti. A group of men kidnap her in broad daylight. Her family has money and influence in her homeland and they want a million dollars for her return. Her father refuses to negotiate with them.

They keep her for thirteen long days. Torture, rape and pain surround this woman so that she refuses to admit who she is anymore. That woman died to her.
This book is not for everyone. I do admit that, but it's a powerful read if you can get through it. Mireille is a strong character and she is tough to the point where I cheered for her even when I was crying. The book isn't just about her breaking either..It's about her re-birth.

Mirielle's families view of Haiti...

Then the Haiti that her kidnappers see:

My mother has often told me there are some things you cannot tell a man who loves you, things he cannot handle knowing. She adheres to the philosophy that it is secrets rather than openness that strengthen a relationship between a man and a woman. She believes this even though she is an honest person. Honesty, she says, is not always about the truth.

In impossible circumstances one is faced with impossible choices.
June 4, 2014
The reviews and cover blurbs led me to expect a serious literary tale of kidnapping and the class divisions between the wealthy and poor in Haiti. But what I got instead was a Lifetime movie of the week. (There's certainly nothing wrong with Lifetime movies if you know that's what to expect).

Chapters alternated between the present day kidnapping and flashbacks to the past, mostly telling the tale of when Mireille and her husband met and married. The scenes with the kidnappers were brutal and graphic, and totally incongruent with the chapters that dealt with the romance backstory. The dialogue and actions between Mireille and her boyfriend/husband were extremely cringe-worthy and juvenile in tone, not what one expects from two adult professionals.

This was a case of the verbiage that was used in reviews leading to the wrong reader (me) to pick up this book.

Profile Image for Lisa.
785 reviews
January 31, 2019
An Untamed Heart by Roxane Gay is a beautifully written novel about one woman's fight to stay alive, set in Haiti Mireille Duval Jameson was kidnapped by a gang of heavily armed men in broad daylight.

Mirelle is the daughter of one of the richest men in Haiti she strong willed & will not be beaten but can Mirielle strong will get above the sexual torture she has to endure? or will the kidnappers break her!!

This was quite a disturbing read I actually had to go past the sexual abuse when it came around was a bit confronting, all in all a compelling novel was very atmospheric a well written.
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
352 reviews405 followers
May 31, 2017
An Untamed State is an extremely hard, brutal, and fierce read. It took me inside the horrible kidnappings going on inside Haiti daily. Searching Google, I found the estimate to be 160 a day. These kidnappings are done to force the wealthy to pay for their loved one's return. The extreme discrepancy between rich and poor in Haiti is astounding. While America is not a third world country, it forced me to think of growing disparities in my own country.

Roxane Gay tells the story of one families ordeal. The main character, Mireille, is held for 13 days. The atrocities committed against her are told in immense detail, and left me horror-struck. Although this is not an easy read, it is one that needs to be heard. A breathtaking read!

Update: on sale at Amazon for $2.99 12/1/14
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
506 reviews1,488 followers
July 27, 2015
Haiti. "A country of contrast between beauty and brutality". Impoverished. Overpopulated. Oppressed. Unbearable heat. A country’s whose industry is abduction. This is where the story starts. For Mierelle, an American visiting her Haitian family, she becomes the currency being negotiated. Her father refuses to be comply with the $1M ransom. The cost: Thirteen days of sexual and psychological trauma. Thirteen days of dying. A lifetime to recover. In the before, life was a fairytale. In the after, the journey back to self is excruciatingly painful. A remarkable story and one that left me feeling as tormented as she. 5 ★
Profile Image for Kathy.
Author 18 books298 followers
March 30, 2014
I won this book through a Goodreads Giveaway. I was excited because I was already familiar with Roxane Gay's writing (fiction & nonfiction), had read Ayiti, and was already a fan.

I want to say honestly that this book rattled me. I cried through the last 1/3 and after finishing I was awake for several hours thinking about it. Few books do this for me. I took copious notes while I read. As a reader, I was fully engaged with this story all throughout. Fully there with Mireille and the other characters. This is not an easy read by any means, but it's an important one. It's one of those books I find myself saying to people, "You have to read this."

Here is how it opens:

" Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones."

I'm going to try not to be effusive here because I know sometimes effusive review turn me off, and probably others, but holy shit what a fantastic opening line. It made me gasp, because hear the wisdom and empathy and pain in it. The complexity of that one sentence.

Also, one theme that has fascinated me all my life is this idea of "the before" and "the after" when a life or lives are tragically changed by one horrific event. This book explores this theme in depth The first half telling the story of Mireille's kidnapping, with some chapters from her first person point of view and other chapters told in third person, giving us her husband Michael's point of view. Throughout her captivity, Mireille remembers her life "before" and this informs and illuminates exactly what price has been paid and also gives the reader a good idea of who she is and how she came to be the woman she is.

The second half of the book deals with the "after." Mireille suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is physically and emotionally broken, and is basically fighting for her life, the life she shared with Michael and their young son. The trauma has completely changed who she is. I appreciated Gay's honest portrayal of this. There are so many times in this novel where it would have been easier to steer the story in an easier direction for the reader's sake, to make things more comfortable, but it wouldn't have been honest.

Mirelle herself is not an easy person. Gay does an excellent job of developing all the characters in this book, but particularly Mireille who is intelligent, complex, honest, stubborn and by her own admission, has a hard time loving and being loved. She is also deeply kind. Her captivity challenges her in ways she'd never been before. Her various methods of getting herself through the ordeal are so searingly honest and heartbreaking it truly is hard to watch unfold. There is the sense for the reader of being right there in this with her, right inside her head, and it's devastating.

I will say that the second half of the book, for me, is stronger. The writing becomes more fluid and deep. I felt at times that aspects of the kidnapping story fell a bit into well-worn territory, such as the main villain having a scar on his face as villains seem required to have. I also felt some of the flashbacks in the first half of the book went a bit long. I would have preferred those to be shorter and sharper at times. One section of flashback contained within it two additional flashbacks and I found myself getting impatient with those. I could see the necessity for building the backstory, however. Particularly with regards to Mireille's childhood and characterizing her father (a very complex person himself). It's necessary to try to understand her father as he stubbornly refuses to pay her ransom. Mireile's father is himself a deeply complex person. His own story is a tragedy in and of itself as the reader knows this man will have to live with his decisions for the rest of his life.

Gay's handling of Mireille's fight to get her life back in the second half of the book is breathtakingly honest. This is a hard, hard road and Gay doesn't flinch from the ugliness or sadness of it. And I don't want to give too much away, but the one person who eventually is able to really help and get through to Mireille is the one person you would not expect and it's perfect. I found myself nodding, often, at the choices made in the telling of this story. I kept thinking, oh there are so many easier ways you could have done this, but they would not have been as honest or had the impact, overall, that the novel has in the end.

This is a novel I will continue to think about for a long time. It is astonishingly honest about the plight of women and their strength and vulnerabilities in our world. It also does not offer easy or comforting answers. It is brilliantly and compellingly written. And as I said at the outset, this is not an easy or pretty read, but it's an important one. I cannot recommend it enough.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,050 reviews48.7k followers
August 9, 2016
Roxane Gay doesn’t make it easy to recommend her riveting first novel. Set in modern-day Haiti, “An Untamed State” is the story of an American lawyer who’s kidnapped while visiting her rich parents in Port-au-Prince. For more than 200 pages, she’s beaten, burned, sliced and gang-raped. Owing to the power of Gay’s prose, the immediacy of the narrator’s voice and the graphic nature of this ordeal, it’s some of the most emotionally exhausting material I’ve ever read.

I have serious reservations about the over-representation of violence. In this country, it seems to inspire a lot less consternation than the over-representation of sex, but that’s for another day on the couch. Ever since the second President Bush squandered a century of moral progress by making torture stylish again, it seems impossible to watch television without seeing someone getting flayed, drilled or sawed. A few years ago, thrillers about women being tortured to death were showing up so frequently in Book World that we set down a quiet moratorium for a few months. We just needed a chance to catch our breath, wipe down the floor and reflect on what it means to critique and even praise depictions of sexualized brutality.

The issue came up in all its complexity last fall while I was serving on the jury for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. One of the finalists, Bob Shacochis’s “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul” — which also takes place largely in Haiti — is a spectacular exploration of the spiritual and psychological damage of American foreign policy, but it inscribes that damage most vividly on the mind and body of a young woman. To what degree does even the most reproving representation of sexual abuse participate in the visceral thrill and habituate us to such treatment?

That question is not easy to resolve — nor is it irrelevant to Gay, a strikingly fresh cultural critic who will publish a collection of essays in August titled “Bad Feminist.” As a Haitian American, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, she’s deeply interested in how values are created — and by whom. Now, in “An Untamed State,” she considers questions of class, parental responsibility and especially sex as a weapon of terror in a fantastically exciting novel. There’s just no getting around the fact that the story is horrible, hypnotic and perfectly constructed to frustrate any search for comfort or resolution.

The narrator, a young mother named Mireille, knows that she’s a curiosity to her American friends: “a Haitian who is not from the slums or the countryside, a Haitian who has enjoyed a life of privilege.” That privilege makes her just as odd to her Haitian countrymen, who live in unrelenting poverty outside the walls of her parents’ lavish compound. Critically, her father is not a member of the corrupt Haitian aristocracy; he’s a hardworking man who came to the United States with nothing, made his fortune as a builder and returned home to create “the largest, most successful firm in the country.” But such distinctions between deserved and undeserved wealth are irrelevant to the men who, in the novel’s opening pages, rip Mireille away from her baby and husband and demand $1 million for her release.

At first, Mireille imagines that she’s merely being inconvenienced. “Kidnapping was a business transaction,” she thinks, “one requiring intense negotiation and, eventually, compromise, but I would be safe. I would be returned to those I love, relatively unharmed. There was ample precedent for hope.”

Her calm is short-lived. The story burns along with one terrifying scene after another. Mireille learns that “there’s no one you can trust in a country run through with anger.” We move from her ordeal at the hands of a gang of insatiable rapists to her parents’ house. There her husband, brilliantly depicted in all his mingled pride and panic, is shocked to learn that his imperious father-in-law has no intention of giving in to the kidnappers’ demands.

Gay may be working in territory many American readers know through the lyrical stories of Edwidge Danticat, but her style is wholly her own: direct, bracing and propulsive. Periodically, she suspends this crisis by flashing back to Mireille’s courtship and marriage in the States. It’s the sort of intermittent relief that can feel both frustrating and wholly necessary as we charge through these pages.

What responsibilities do the fantastically rich have to their countrymen who have no running water, no food, no health care? Mireille has seen the wretched people surrounding her father’s luxury sedan. She has some vague sense that many low-paid servants must toil so that her family can enjoy “the comfortable lunacy of . . . a beautiful party on a perfectly groomed beach in the middle of a land of starving people.” Given this crushing inequality, it’s easy to imagine “An Untamed State” pleading for the moral innocence of desperately poor people who have no options except crime and extortion. Indeed, in the opening paragraph, Mireille tells us, “I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.”

But the boundless savagery of Mireille’s kidnappers soon makes any kind of sociological apology for their behavior sound obscene. Despite the beatings she receives for talking back, she shreds her captors’ pompous class-warfare cant, refusing to let them imagine that the injustices they’ve suffered absolve them. We’re left not with the tidy explanations of Karl Marx, but the fathomless mystery of evil and what it wreaks on one woman.

Betrayed by her country and her father — even by the very principles of her fairy-tale life — Mireille must find some way to survive the unsurvivable. “I was becoming,” she tells us, “a woman who could be disgusted by nothing.” Forced into an untamed state of her own, she can get through this trauma only by forgetting her family. “One by one, I tried to erase each of these memories,” she says. Then her identity drains away, too, and she regards herself as dead — beyond any further pain. But what future does that leave for her if she’s ever released?

That’s the aching challenge that hangs over this smart, searing novel.

This review was published in The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Molly.
47 reviews165 followers
October 12, 2015
This is really an appalling book. It appears to be a fictionalization of this kidnapping,


but Gay transforms the mafia kidnappers into leftist militants and brutal rapists. The resulting story is dominantly disavowed BDSM erotica, but it serves also as reactionary propaganda. The title should tip anyone off to the hackneyed neo-colonial comic that's coming: there's nothing even hipster-ironic here to mitigate the reasserted formula -- Haiti = Savage, and must be tamed/civilized by the US empire.

Gay cynically uses her purportedly "feminist" subject matter of violence against women (the depicted suffering and abuse is offered fairly straightforwardly as entertaining) as cover for her vilification of the revolutionary, courageous, principled, persevering people of Haiti, whom she conjures as archetypal "chimeres". At the same time of course Gay delivers the beatification of their comprador exploiter-torturers, portrayed as their generous, innocent victims.

The writing is graceless and lazy. An Untamed State is basically YA fiction, a story of a female protagonist abused and 'overcoming the challenges' of recovery, with the plot concocted in accordance with the need to display her struggle through adversity, as if it were an anecdote in a CB psychology textbook. The only thing that distinguishes this novel from YA is the infusion of the challenge-and-prevailing with graphically described rape at such length. (It can serve as an instructive specimen of contemporary schlock trend generally, with more and more children's crap -- comix and fairytales and high school melodramas -- imagined to be made suitable for adults by being stuffed and slathered with dumb explicit violent sex and violence).

Scenes of American upper middle class family relations are pasted in from chick flix against a kind of cardboard backdrop spraypainted with "local color" signalling the life of the well-to-do in Port au Prince:

We sat on one of the teak benches across from my mother. Nadine brought us cold drinks. When my father came home from work, he joined us, performed as he always does for guests, creating from his imagination a Haiti that does not exist, or perhaps once existed and is fading away, a jewel in the middle of an ocean with white beaches and clear blue warm water and a strong, resilient people—a Caribbean Camelot.

“I had no idea people lived in such luxury,” Michael said, gripping my hand tightly.

It would not be the last time he made that statement. Americans have such strange ideas about the world beyond their borders. After dinner, I stood with my mother on a balcony listening to the mystery of the city around us.

“You love this man.” An unexpected smile spread across my face. I looked down at my hands.

“He’s the only man I’ve ever loved.” Before bed, I kissed Michael good night in the hallway just outside of his room.

“Come visit me later,” he whispered. I shook my head and backed away. He refused to let go of my hands until he absolutely had to.

I laughed. “You’ll have to be a big boy and sleep all by yourself tonight.”

“You’ll miss me,” he said.

“Not as much as you’ll miss me.”

Gay, Roxane (2014-05-06). An Untamed State (p. 90). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Inside this deceptive packaging of the dully familiar and typical, the novel stacks the narrative deck in a way that propagandistically misrepresents the violence and relations of power in Haiti. This charmed sphere of luxury, romance and unsuspected American wholesomeness, it turns out, is surrounded and beseiged by the Untamed: the savagery of the Haitian poor. Gay's fictional Haiti has leapt from the malicious fantasies of Stanley Lucas and Bill Clinton, precisely replicating imperialist mythology https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25Mf7... , with vicious and sadistic "chimeres" preying resentfully upon the innocent American do gooder.

In the real Haiti, the violence comes from these villas and these Americans, including Haitian Americans. In the real Haiti, the mafia and the police patronized by the ruling elites run kidnapping rings. http://www.haiti-liberte.com/archives... http://haiti-liberte.com/archives/vol... http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2011-01-... In the real Haiti, rape and torture are used by US backed paramilitaries against the poor and Lavalas militants. http://www.haitisolidarity.net/articl...

In Gay's fictional Haiti this is all turned upside down. In Gay's fictional Haiti, the poor and Lavalas militants prey sadistically upon profoundly innocent and loveable chick lit heroines from the USA, using radical politics merely as an excuse for misogynistic cruelty and greed. While the real Haiti is the reality of millions of poor Haitians subject to the endless violence of comprador elites, US empire and its MINUSTAH enforcers, Gay's Haiti is the story of a wealthy American envisioned as harmless and pure in her ignorance, who is obsessively desired and sadistically tormented by poor left wing Haitian militants. The result is a kind of 50 Shades of Gray in Haiti lightly disguised as an ordinary, commonplace tale, presented with all the trappings of CNF memoir to create imperialist fable as tortutainment:

He stopped, set the knife on the bed next to my ear. The blade was so sharp it hummed eagerly. “You want mercy?” His voice was drowsy with desire. I never hated him more. “Yes, Laurent, I do. Please grant me mercy.” He thought for a moment, rubbing his hand across my stomach. “I will grant you mercy if you do not fight.” I bit my tongue. This was the real sacrifice, my life for my life. I gave him one kind of pain to avoid another. I killed myself to save myself. I would not have survived otherwise. I told him to uncuff me; he did. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders. I kissed his forehead. I died. I kissed his cheekbones, sharp. I died. I told him he was the son of L’Ouverture as I gently grazed his neck with my teeth. I died. I pushed him onto his back and lay on top of him. I bled onto his body, dead but still dying. I pulled his arms around my waist. This was mercy. I pressed my lips to his chest, slid down his body, tracing along his center with my tongue, tasted my blood on his skin. I died. I traced the deeply carved muscles of his trembling thighs with my lips, my fingers, my tongue. I said, “You shall know kindness even though you have shown me none.” I died. When he said, “I want you now,” I lay on my back. I did not fight. I died. When he said, “Look into my eyes,” I did. I died.

Gay, Roxane (2014-05-06). An Untamed State (pp. 363-364). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The contrast both to real memoirs of torture (eg The Blindfold's Eyes, by Dianna Ortiz) or serious literary treatments of the realities of torture (eg Ariel Dorfmann's play Death and The Maiden), is extreme and instructive. It shows the extent to which Gay's work is fraudulent and cynical, a flimsy tabloid style pulp entertainment in the service of very different-- commerical, exploitative, propagandistic - aims than those the publisher and author cynically deploy to sell it.

It should be no surprise to anyone that this book is being endlessly touted by the US press despite its lack of literary quality or even competence as pulp fiction. At a time when the US empire is again returning Haitians to slavery with breathtaking brutality, Gay invites her progressive liberal feminist readers to a violent pornographic daydream about how barbarically the 'untamed' Haitian poor oppress and abuse wealthy innocent Anericans. In this way the novel validates the worst fabrications of war propaganda issued by the US Department of State in the course of its vindictive, ruthless and sadistic policy toward the people of Haiti (a policy amply exposed by Wikileaks cables, and which therefore can not be dismissed as well-intentioned bungling). This supposedly daring, edgy novel is really a mix of lazy sentimental soap opera cliches fashioned as the candy coating for this crude propaganda. It is written with the utmost cynicism, to please a hideous publishing industry that is increasingly dominated by the crassest spectacle of violence and pornography and always ready to promote fiction that somehow works to make even more credible the fictions that are passed off as facts by mendacious imperial journalists of the Murdoch press. Like the proliferating CNF garbage frequently showered with awards (eg the odious Katherine Boo), Gay's novel insists it has a certain purchase on historical human affairs without taking responsibility for factuality and accuracy; it is yet another stupidly titillating narrative that postures as raw honesty (as if inclusion of sexual violence suffices for truthfulness) but is really a colonial fantasy tailored to justify US empire.
Profile Image for Beverly.
836 reviews315 followers
February 12, 2020
Written in the form of a fairy tale, An Untamed State has two parts: there is the before, when Mirielle and Michael are happy and oblivious and the after, when she has endured the horrific violence of a kidnapping in Haiti. Mirielle and Michael and their infant son, Cristophe, are visiting Mirielle's parents who live in their native Haiti, when she is taken by armed and violent men. Michael is impotent in the face of the assault, as he continues to be.

But the real villain in the piece is Mirielle's father Sebastian who decides not to pay the ransom for 13 days, and thereby unleashes the anger of the kidnappers who rape and torture Mirielle. She survives, this is not a spoiler, you know she does from the start. Mirielle runs to the care of Michael's mother, who Mirielle nursed through breast cancer. She needs the loving care of a woman.

Michael only thinks of himself and how hard it is for him, raising their child alone; he can't or won't support her through her recovery. He expects her to just shape up and get better. She, sparing his feelings, never tells him what she has endured. Lorraine, Michael's mother, who was hostile to Mirielle when they first married because she is black and they are white, overcomes her initial wicked stepmother role and becomes the bridge to healing.

The one thing that was unbelievable to me was their perfect life before. I didn't care for Michael. He never takes up for her or supports her with his parents. I didn't think their perfect harmony was so perfect.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
February 7, 2023

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Wow, if this isn't made into a Netflix miniseries soon, somebody's sleeping at their desk. This had everything I love in fiction-- a strong and flawed female protagonist, a dark storyline, breakneck pacing, and even a little romance. I'm keeping AN UNTAMED STATE on my Kindle forever as a reminder of what good writing looks like, because whoa. My feelings have been put into a blender and thoroughly shaken.

AN UNTAMED STATE is about the daughter of one of Haiti's wealthiest businessmen. She is a lawyer and a success in her own right, married to a white man who is the son of farmers. Once, she helped take care of his mother while she was recovering from cancer. His mother was an ignorant and proud woman, but her brush with death and her love of her son made her love Mireille too. Now, she and her new baby and her husband are in Haiti, and she is slowly getting her husband to love the country she has been taught to love.

And then she gets kidnapped.

And her father refuses to pay the price the men who have taken her are asking.

The story is told in two parts: during and after. One is a traditional thriller story of survival and bravery. The other is a story of healing and recovery. Mireille and her husband, Michael, are the narrators. I don't want to say too much more because of spoilers, but the things that Mireille endures at the hands of her captors is brutal. It reminded me a lot of the dark erotica, BREAK HER. Through torture, Mireille learns a lot about her own ability to survive and endure. She is reduced to an untamed state, which could also refer to Haiti itself: a place of beauty that, in her privilege, she has always glimpsed through rose-tinted glasses, unable to see the poverty and the desperation that can make mortal men so cruelly desperate.

This book has triggers for virtually everything but it is so deftly handled and such a starkly brilliant portrayal of humanity at its best and worst that nothing felt sensational. I love Gay's nonfiction and felt only lukewarm about her fictional short story collection that I read, but this book was absolutely masterful. I seriously can't even find the words to explain how much I loved this and why, but I know it's probably going to end up being one of my favorite books of the year. It's that good.

5 stars
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews206 followers
August 9, 2015
An Untamed State

 photo gallery_gay_zpsu1d2gx2q.jpg
Roxane Gay, is an American writer, professor, editor, blogger, and commentator

The U.S. official Government policy concerning the release of prisoners and demands for ransoms reads:

The U.S. Government will make no concessions to terrorists holding official or private U.S. citizens hostage. It will not pay ransom, release prisoners, change its policies, or agree to other acts that might encourage additional terrorism.

There's of course a significant difference in the way we think of and define victims of Kidnappings vs. Hostages.

Kidnapping is generally done for ransom, whereas hostage-taking is mostly conducted by terrorists organizations looking to get leverage and obtain concessions to their demands.

I suspect though that for the victims and the victims's families of either kind of act, these differences might be merely a matter of legal standing and semantics.

The thinking behind a State maintaining such a policy, although seemingly lacking compassion, is understandable.

But what would you think of a rich businessman who himself maintains a self-imposed ban on paying ransoms, even if the person abducted is his own daughter?

Any daughter (or son for that matter) would be naturally inclined to count on her dad's willingness to do everything in his power to keep her out of harm's way. In my book, that includes paying any amount of money he can get his hand into in order to save his daughter's life.

The plot of An Untamed State centers around Mireille Duval Jameson, a Haitian-American young woman, whose father is a highly successful construction magnate. After building a mass fortune and raising two American-born daughters in Nebraska, Sebastien has convinced his wife to return to Haiti and enjoy their hard-earned fortune back in their beautiful island nation.
My parents spent most of their lives trying to find their way home too. They wanted to return to their island, their people, their food...

So this is sort of the immigrant story in reverse, one that most Americans don't often hear about. In reality this is a very typical story for many immigrants (my parents included), people that have come to America, but dream of spending their twilight years back in their home country.

Raised as a child of privilege, Mireille has a chip on her shoulder, she can be stubborn, entitled and childish. She's prone to bouts of inexplicable anger and drama.
So Gay has given us a character that is very difficult to like or sympathize with. But I think creating Mireille as such a flawed character serves to shed light into the important issue of violence against women worldwide.

The moral of the story: This type of violence can happen to any woman regardless of class, age, race, religion, sexual orientation or nationality. You can be the kindest girl or you can be a bitch, it can still happen to you.

In her late 20's, Mireille has become a succesful lawyer, she's married to Michael, a mild-mannered Midwesterner, whom she describes as a "tall, thick-bodied, blond-haired man". They had settled into a comfortable life in Miami with their beautiful infant son.

Mireille and Michael's interracial relationship is one of themes that underlines important contrasts: blacks/whites, rich/ poor, the mind/the body, Haiti beautiful country/ ugly country.

The story itself is divided in two parts, "the before and after" as our narrator calls it.

The "before" or the "Happily Ever After", starts as Mireille and Michael are in Haiti visiting her parents.
On their way to a beach trip, along with their infant son, Christophe, they are surrounded by a gang of armed men, on broad daylight they kidnapped Mireille for ransom, all of this as a beaten and shocked Michael watches in despair.

Thus begins a 13-day nightmarish journey, in which Mireille is the subject of unspeakable acts of physical and psychological torture. This is the moment when Mireille's fairy tale is broken forever.

I know that many readers have shied away from reading this book because of the very violent and sexual nature of the story, but I would say that my impression was that the author's descriptions and level of detail were necessary in order to convey how horrific Mireille's ordeal truly was.

In fact, I found that Gay used an almost detached, analytical tone when describing these scenes, which in itself serves to emphasize the merciless, barbaric treatment she was subjected to.

During her captivity, Mireille is kept in a small, hot box. The mastermind behind her kidnapping, is someone we get to know as "The Commander", he's a sociopath with a flair for sadistic acts. Throughout her ordeal she's continuously raped by 7 different men and endures all kinds of torture and humiliation.
Because she was still nursing her baby when she was kidnapped, this adds yet another layer of both physical and emotional pain.

Mireille is not a passive hostage though, she shows a lot of courage and does all she can to fight her abusers. As an American and an immigration lawyer, she seems to have a deep and idealistic sense of justice, but there are times when you want to tell her to stop fighting since her resistance only seems to garner her more cruelty from her captors.

Twenty four hours after she's taken captive, The Commander has contacted Sebastien, and puts the price for her release at $1 million dollars, and amount that apparently is not a problem for him to pay, except that as Mireille suspects, her father will not pay the ransom. He's convinced that if he yields to the kidnappers demands they will continue extorting him in the future.

So Mireille's body and her chances of survival, become instruments used in a negotiation conducted by selfish, overbearing men.

This is a common theme that runs throughout the novel, Mireille's finds that her future and the decisions that affect her life, keep ending up in the hands of men, both those that are supposed to look out for her: her father, husband, doctors, and those that do not.

This first part of the novel is interspersed with flashbacks in which we experience the passionate and tumultuous romance between Mireille and Michael. This was to me the weakest part of the novel. I found many of these scenes trite, insipid and terribly redundant. It frankly became too much of a romance novel with too much drama for my taste...

The "after" part of the novel (called "Once upon a Time) delves into Mireille's extremely difficult path to find who she is after surviving this terrible ordeal.
I thought that this was the most fascinating and best executed part of the story.
I am sure you've probably guessed that Mireille's father did eventually paid the ransom and she gets released.

But by now, Mireille's body has endured unbelievable levels of physical trauma and like it usually happens, the body heals faster than the mind.

The body holds a certain wisdom the mind does not she ponders, early in her detention.

The reaction of Mireille's parents immediately after her release, is to pretend that she has already survived the worse of her nightmare . In reality though, her long and painful recovery process has only started.

One of the things I learned when I read Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, is that survivors of sexual assault can experience some of the same psychological symptoms that soldiers diagnosed with PTSD display.

Disassociation is a psychological term described as "a copying mechanism that seeks to master, minimize or tolerate stress. In its more pathological form, dissociation involves fugue and alterations in personal identity or sense of self".

Mireille runs away from everybody that loves her, including Michael and has to literally reprogram her entire life’s outlook in order to survive.

She ends up living with Michael's parents for a few months. I absolutely loved Lorraine (Michael's mom) as a character. She showed patience and wisdom in the way she understood Mireille delicate mental condition and provided a welcoming and safe environment for her to recover.

Michael is also a great character, there were times when I wondered why in the world did this amazing guy felt in love with this most obnoxious woman!

I would've like a happier resolution to the conflict between Mireille and her dad. Somehow I felt that both her parents should've worked harder at getting closer to their daughter.

An Untamed State, describes both the conditions of Haiti a beautiful island-nation ravaged by misery and poverty, and Mireille, and the condition she's reduced to after she survives this horrible event.

This novel, which I didn't know was drawn from Gay’s own experience with rape, is a challenging read, but I think a necessary one.

I don't believe these characters will stay with me for a long time, but overall I thought this was a well written novel.

One final thought, if you've been the victim of sexual violence, I believe that this book might triggered difficult memories. Perhaps you might want to reconsidered reading it.
Profile Image for Carol.
835 reviews500 followers
December 10, 2014
The Hook - ”Once upon a time in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.”

The Line”The people love a real tragedy when they think it cannot happen to them.

The Sinker – Many young girls look up to their fathers. Fathers are larger than life, not only in stature but often also in voice. Fathers can do no wrong and in my case, my father was my first hero. We want to please our fathers even if it costs us something of ourselves.


Circling back to The Hook you immediately know Mireille Duvall Jameson’s story is no fairy tale sprinkled with princesses and princes. Fiction that reads like non-fiction, it pulls no punches of what it means to be privileged in a country where poverty is the norm. In an almost Robin Hood kind of way Mireille becomes the vehicle in a political maneuver of an imbalance of money. When Mireille visits her homeland, Haiti with her son and husband, the family compound behind gates cannot protect her from the reality of a country in economical upheaval. What should have been a leisurely day at the beach ends in Mireille being kidnapped for ransom. It is a brutal telling of a woman with pride and spirit who has been taught to be strong and not fold under the worst circumstances. Whether her strength is an asset or a liability is hard to determine. Each of us will see this in light of our own determination. In Mireille’s case it is her father most of all who has set the tone of her substance.

”My father’s parents both died when he was young, in ways that disgusted him, in ways he once told us, that showed him that the only way to survive this world is by being strong.”

Be strong. These two words echo her consciousness throughout Mireille’s ordeal. Be strong, two small words that can be hard to live up to.

To her kidnappers:
”My father doesn’t believe in paying kidnappers. You should know that.”

the response:
”Your father will pay for his youngest daughter.”

These words are the crux of An Untamed State but not the only issue to explore or resolve. As the dedication states

for women, the world over

Magnificent writing, An Untamed State is a powerful story. I did not agree with all the choices the author made but these choices would make for interesting discussion.

”We loved Haiti. We hated Haiti. We did not understand or know Haiti. Years later, I still did not understand Haiti, but I longed for the Haiti of my childhood. When I was kidnapped, I knew I would never find that Haiti ever again.”

Don’t miss An Untamed State but be forewarned that like me, it may kick you in the gut, shock your senses and open your eyes to a world we know nothing about.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
6 reviews
August 11, 2014
I am utterly baffled by these rave reviews. Were we reading the same book? Honestly this reads more like a Sidney Sheldon novel than the timely sociopolitical thriller I thought it would be. The relationship between Mireille and Michael was immature, one dimensional and unrealistic--much like the characters in this book. And as another reader pointed out was the issue of race and how it was portrayed in such a simplistic, clumsy, and dare say, slavish adoration of the white American male. It felt like a bad 1980s third world fever dream written by a coked out Jerry Bruckheimer. Seriously, I expected Tubbs and Crockett to come busting in any second and save the spoiled brat from her nasty predicament, but no such luck. Because that would of been badass. Not really. And you're probably wondering what's with all the 80s references. All I can say this book felt dated and weirdly Regeanish. If that makes any sense. Anyway it was a big disappointment. Just goes to show that highly acclaimed is not always highly deserved.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews160k followers
September 22, 2016
Look, I know this is fiction, but if you told me that this was actually a memoir published as fiction, I would believe it. Every second of this book feels like reality. All the senses are triggered: You feel everything, hear everything, smell everything, taste everything. Miri once lived a perfect fairy tale life. And then she visited her family in Haiti and was kidnapped and held for ransom for thirteen days. Unspeakable horrors were done to her, while her wealthy father tries to negotiate the ransom. When she is finally released, bruised and cut and broken in so many ways, she has to rediscover how to be the human she was before this happened to her. This is one harrowing book, and one you won’t be able to put down.

— Ashley Holstrom

from The Best Books We Read In August 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/08/31/riot-r...


This year Roxane Gay changed the conversation about literature, feminism, and pop culture. Her debut novel, An Untamed State, has stuck with me more than anything else I’ve read this year. It tackles political, social, cultural, and sexual issues that are often brushed aside in literature, and does so with gasp-causing precision. The raw power of the prose will make you reexamine what it means to be truly afraid, while the prose itself is fearless. While you’ll likely camp out and finish this book in a day or two, it will stay with you. -Aram Mrjoian

From Best Books of 2014: http://bookriot.com/2014/12/02/riot-r...
Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,256 reviews2,302 followers
June 23, 2020
This book is a nightmare. An experience in pure terror, as you experience with the first-person protagonist, a woman's body being violated limitlessly, again and again, over a period of thirteen days. As you feel her being degraded into an object, an entity without identity, a plaything for men to satisfy their deranged fantasies and for them to vent their anger and frustration on, you sink with her into a bottomless black hole. And I am speaking as a man. If you are a woman, and a sensitive one at that, I don't know what you will experience.

So this is the statutory warning - read this book only if you have the resilience, or if you enjoy wallowing in the darkness of the human psyche. Otherwise give it a miss. But provided you can stomach the hurt, it is a terrific story.

Mireille Duval apparently has it all - rich parents, a handsome, gentle hunk as a husband, and a beautiful child. By her own confession, she is living a fairy tale: until one day when she is kidnapped from in front of the palatial Haitian mansion of her parents. It is a kidnapping for ransom, common in Haiti; the relatives pay the money and the kidnappee is returned. But Mireille's millionaire father refuses to play the game and starts tough negotiations. The kidnappers, frustrated at not getting the money, decide make the best of the situation - which is to gang-rape their victim.

Soon, Mireille's existence is one of continuous sexual harassment. She is appropriated by two of the team - a guy called TiPierre, who promises all the gang members his share of the ransom for possessing her exclusively; and the leader called the Commander, who anyway has first dibs on her. TiPierre wants to make believe that it is a romantic relationship. The commander enjoys bondage and sadism, and hurts her in unimaginable ways to achieve his pleasure. Soon, Mireille sinks into apathy and comes to think of herself as an object, a person without any identity, someone who exists just for others to use her... her only aim being to avoid hurt.

Her ordeal does not end even after she is rescued. In one way, it begins afresh then, as she realises she is broken in more ways than one. She can't accept intimacy from her husband. She can't bear to touch her child. She has totally lost faith in her father who was callous in leaving her to the wolves and trying to save money. And she is continuously afraid. Her captors put her in a cage from where there is no escape.
I was kept in a cage inside a cage inside a cage. I became an animal, baring my teeth, throwing myself against the bars, ignoring the pain. I would have bro- ken my own body but the cage became smaller and all I could do was rock back and forth, hissing. Men who were also animals, poked at me with sharp things. They bled me for sport. They fed me bloody meat I tore with my teeth and fingers. The meat was slick and bland in my throat.

I was kept in a glass box inside a glass box inside a glass box. I could see everyone I loved and they could see me. They were happy. They smiled at me as they walked by my glass box inside a glass box inside a glass box. I tried to shatter the glass with my fists and only shattered my bones. I stripped myself naked, pressed my body to the glass. I forced those beyond the glass to bear witness.

I was suspended from an iron bar chained to a vaulted ceiling inside a room inside a room inside a room. The muscles in my arms unraveled. My bones stretched. I grew longer. I grew longer. No matter how hard I swung my body, I never reached a wall.

I had no choice and in that there was freedom. There were seven angry men with tightly muscled, long, lean bodies. Their skin was dark and shiny slick with sweat. They used me in the worst ways they could imagine. I had no choice so I surrendered my body to it. The more they hurt me, the harder I came. The more they hurt me, the more I changed, the more I became what they wanted me to become. They left me gaping, open, wet, wanting.
The trauma of a rape is all the more potent after the event. Mireille keeps on running from all men. This description of her casual encounter with a policeman is harrowing.
I was still afraid of what he might do to me. He could throw me over the hood of my car and tear my clothes off. He could drag me behind the rest area or into one of the bathrooms. He could force me to my knees. He could make me put my mouth on him. He could take me in the backseat of his car. He could use his gun or nightstick and try to reshape my body in new and crueler ways. He could gut me or shove me in the trunk of his patrol car and take me into the deep Kentucky woods. There was nothing left for him to take from me but there were a great many things he could do. For the rest of my life, I would always calculate the worst possibilities of being alone with any man but my husband. I would always be prepared.
(The author herself is the survivor of one such incident in her teens, and I am sure that has contributed to this novel. If it is so traumatic to read, I can only shudder how traumatic it must have been to write.)

Rape is not just an act of violence. It is a political act; the way in which patriarchal society asserts its domination; how a victorious army asserts its absolute power over a defeated people. It is also act of vengeance of the downtrodden male on the class which grinds him underfoot. In both cases, the female body (dehumanised) is where the game is played out.
The Commander brushed my hair from my face. He lay next to me and told me a story about his mother, who scrubbed the floors and washed the clothes and cooked the food for a man like my father. He told me how a man like my father treated his mother like a whore because that’s the kind of thing men like my father can get away with. The Commander said his mother is old now even though she is not old, more ghost than woman.

When he finished talking, I said, “Your mother did not deserve the unwanted attentions of a man like my father.” I said, “I did not deserve the unwanted attentions of a man like you. It is often women who pay the price for what men want.”
Ultimately, it's Mireille's mother-in-law Lorraine (who actually doesn't like her), a strong woman herself, who brings her back to life. However, the first step in that recovery is the understanding that one is never going to recover fully, to go back to what life was before - as one perceptive psychoanalyst tells Mireille.
Only one therapist told me the truth. She sat in one of those expensive, uncomfortable chairs you see in modern design magazines. She set her leather-bound notebook on her desk and leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. She said, “I am going to come clean with you, Mireille. You will get better but you will never be okay, not in the way you once were. There is no being okay after what you’ve been through.”

That truth freed me. I said, “Thank you,” and I meant it. I was lighter and cleaner and calm.
There is no happily ever after. But for people like Mireille, gifted with affluence and a loving husband, there is at least a life. But for those millions of battered women who are not so lucky - what do they endure on a daily basis? The mind balks.
Profile Image for Steve.
Author 12 books247 followers
September 10, 2016
A disclosure: as an editor I published a short story that grew into this novel, and since then the author has become a friend. So while I wouldn't review this for publication, I'll do so here with that caveat.

This was a difficult read, because it is brutal and its brutality is offered in a matter-of-fact way that while anything but superficial is very clear about the surface of things, the physical, painful reality of experience. As a reader I'm more often drawn to the absurd, to fiction a step away from literal reality, and I'll admit I felt myself at first resisting the stark literalness of An Untamed State (I don't mean to say the novel is limited to the literal, just that it doesn't put layers of conceit between story and reader). I found myself initially distracted, even frustrated, by leaving the present action of Mireille's kidnapping and captivity (mention of which is no spoiler) to give background about characters' ordinary lives, marriages and childhoods and illnesses, the familiar things of realist fiction. But the novel quickly showed up those early reactions of mine as privileged resistance to seeing things head-on, my own attempt to define Mireille's story by one part of her life instead of by its totality, as do so many men around her — and this is very much a story of men trying dictate who and what women are, both with violence and with what those men assume to be kindness.

So when I say the novel was a challenge I mean not only the brutality of the story, but the self-reflection it provoked. This was a rare and powerful reading experience indeed, and I'm honored to have played a bit part in its route to publication.
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews497 followers
February 8, 2017
this is a brutal and unsparing portrayal of sexual violence. it's also a critique of economic disparity and an angry indictment of patriarchy (which may or may not go hand in hand with economic disparity).

a young haitian lawyer, black, married to a handsome nebraskan man (white), with an übercute little kid, is kidnapped during her visit to haiti to see her family. kidnapping apparently is the order of the day in haiti at the time (pre-earthquake) and wealthy people expect it and do all they can to prevent it. mireille's family's security measures are not enough and soon the kidnappers are asking for one million american dollars as ransom for mireille. sort of inexplicably, near the beginning of the novel mireille, who narrates the vast majority of the chapters, tells us that her kidnappers were scared young men. this sense of forgiveness, acceptance, or empathy never returns in the novel; nor, frankly, do they seem that scared when we meet them. but there you have it.

in all likelihood that kidnapping would have gone off without a hitch and no-one would have gotten hurt if mireille's father had paid straight away. but mireille's father has opinions about how to handle situations like this (it's his first time, but of course he has been preparing for it forever), and decides not to negotiate with the kidnappers. this unleashes in the latter a barrage of sexual violence that goes on, relentlessly, for the entirety of the 13 days of the kidnapping. we are given a really precise sense of what this violence consists of and of what it feels like, and it isn't pretty. in fact, it's barely tolerable. one night, after reading, i found myself shaking and unable to sleep. let's just say that i've never read sexual brutality described with such truthfulness. the only other book that made me equally horrified is Primo Levi's incredible narration of his life in auschwitz in Survival in Auschwitz, aka If This Is a Man. what these two books have in common is their masterful rendition of what it feels like to stop being human.

mireille alternates the narrative of what happens to her during her capture with stories of her life with her husband michael and of her pregnancies, only one of which goes to term. the narrative organization is pretty flawless, and while mireille's life before her capture emerges as nice (a lot of emphasis on desire between mireille and michael), there is always, looming, and by necessity, a sense of unease about men and their strange culture. in short, men are brutes who hurt women, michael notwithstanding. and michael is not a sweetie pie. he's a man of few words and he's as hungry for mireille as mireille is for him. given the narrative set up, though, this hunger is uncomfortable to the reader. you'd rather have them make french toast together than fuck intensely, overwhelmed by their love/desire for each other.

there is also the fact that michael's nebraskan family, made of farm-owning mom and dad, is none too pleased with michael's marrying someone of a different color, and makes absolutely no mystery of it. this is as painful and uncomfortable to mireille as you'd expect it to be, but michael seems kind of clueless about it.

the most powerful parts of the book are about the brutality and the cluelessness of men. the torture scenes are really, really good. roxane gay, who was born in nebraska but is of haitian origin, gives you a clear sense of how easily women turn from human beings to playthings in the hands of men. she gives, it seems to me, no rhyme or reason for this. the playing they are subjected to is fully sexual and fully sadistic, so that if we weren't used to this, if the object of such treatment were, say, animals rather than human beings, we would unquestioningly consider these men psychopaths. as it is, we consider them rapists, a category that is so over-present in all sorts of representational forms, we consider it pretty much natural. so one thing that roxane gay does well here is denaturalize all that, show it for the absolute pathological deadly derangement it is.

and we are extremely thankful for the fact that, after having given us a chillingly accurate idea of what these men are doing -- after making sure we get it -- she lets up and simply hints. not that it gets any easier for the reader, but the novel doesn't turn into torture porn one. tiny. bit. which it could easily have done.

men's cluelessness is portrayed in all its glory in the aftermath, when mireille is released. the major culprit, of course, is michael -- but then he was clueless from day one.

the second part of the book is about post traumatic agony, and there are some pretty brutal scenes (not quite as brutal as the torture scenes, but close) in which michael thinks that the best way to help his wife is to force her to do things she doesn't want to do. as anyone who understand trauma even just a bit knows, forcing someone who's been deprived of her autonomy in the most radical way to do things, even things that are supposedly good for her, is a sure recipe for intolerable retraumatization.

eventually respite comes to mirelle (thank god) from some unexpected and lovely place, and we can breathe a little (just a little).

two things that left me unhappy at the end: although reformed, michael seems to me to continue being a jerk, understanding his role as mireille's partner only in terms of "masculine" protectiveness and bluster. if the book means for that to be the case, and therefore critiques michael, this critique is not made clear at all. the other thing is small but it bugged me all the way through: mireille has two siblings but the second one, a male, is mentioned only at the beginning and never mentioned again. this is strange in a book in which the family and its dynamics are so closely analyzed. if i've missed something, please feel free to let me know in comment.

i think roxane gay puts material about nationhood, race, belonging and capitalism in the book, too -- especially about the mayhem that is bound to happen when very rich people live in close proximity to people who are absolutely destitute -- but, frankly, her analysis of gender relations is so bright and stark and powerful, the rest kind of falls by the wayside.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,521 reviews9,017 followers
October 22, 2014
Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies that it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.

Damn. I read An Untamed State over a period of two weeks, taking in the torturous first half at a snail's pace, speeding through the second half in an emotion-filled haze. The book follows Mirelle Jameson, daughter of one of Haiti's richest sons, wife to Michael, an American man, and mother to Christophe, the couple's newborn son. As Mirelle and Michael enter their car right outside of Mirelle's father's home, a group of men kidnap her. She endures thirteen days of living hell.

Roxane Gay fills this book with all the right literary elements. Two aspects that stood out include her raw, vivid prose and the flashbacks she used to provide character depth while breaking away from the main, horrifying narrative. But An Untamed State reaches far deeper than just an ordinary novel with a solid structure. Gay's novel acts as an experience, a book that delves into PTSD and the burdens of women and the unbearable pain of the world we live in. Hope and visceral agony thrum through its pages, as the book centers on the theme of dying every day and still surviving, and fighting, to stay live.

Roxane Gay's debut novel reads like nothing else: difficult, honest, heartbreaking, and redemptive. I cannot wait to read more of her work in the future.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,424 reviews2,558 followers
April 25, 2019
Review April 24, 2019

I read this book four years ago and I remember it being a difficult read and a book I wanted to revisit. I decided to read it for BookOfCinz book club just so I could get some other perspectives. An Untamed State is Roxane Gay's debut novel. Set in Haiti, the book follows the kidnapping of Mireille Duval Jameson, the daughter of one of Haiti's richest men. A compelling look into the what transpires during the kidnapping of Mireille as she awaits her father decision on whether he will pay the ransom.

Roxane Gay bites off a lot in this novel in some ways it all comes together in a powerful way and in some ways it does not. This is difficult book to read, from the portrayal of Haiti to the actual kidnapping and the trauma that happens during and after. A lot a themes are explored- immigration, father-daughter relationships, interracial dating, Caribbean parents and their relationships with their children, rape and the list continues.

Personally, I felt the brutally was a bit overdone in the book and a bit repetitive, to the point where it lost it's effect. I got the writer wanted to make me uncomfortable but I was more like, "ok, I get it!". I also felt the relationship between Mirielle and her husband Michael was a bit petty and childish, but that's for another time.

Overall, this is a very strong debut novel that will leave you feeling gutted.

February 5, 2015 Review
WOW. WOW. Gay floored me with this book. The emotions were so raw for the entire book. I really did feel for the protagonist. What happened was so cruel, it rips your heart to pieces, Gay ripped my heart to pieces.
A great read.
Profile Image for Jen.
50 reviews43 followers
February 16, 2017
This is a brutal and disappointing novel in more ways than one.

From the blurbs and the puffed-up critical praise I was expecting a thoughtful, stirring account of how one woman survives a horrific ordeal that in turn casts an authentic scope on privilege, sexual abuse, PTSD, and the sociopolitical inner-workings of Haiti and its culture, but that is far from the truth.

Things begin with a fairy tale life filled with professional privilege, unyielding love, and monetary security. This life belongs to Haitian-American lawyer Mireille. She is a young mother and wife, as well as a devoted daughter and sister. Yet, fairy tales don’t last, as Mireille is stripped of all of her known security when during a visit to her parent’s estate she is kidnapped at gunpoint in broad daylight and held for ransom by a gang of opportunistic criminals. Her father, a man who has worked himself out of poverty to gain a lush and privileged life for his family, refuses to pay his daughter’s captors much to the chagrin of Mireille’s husband, Michael. So for thirteen days Mireille is stripped of her identities and her dignity as she is raped, beaten, starved, and tortured to a degree that is difficult to digest and comprehend. When she’s released she has to come face-to-face with not only the lie of life she had previously been leading, but also has to turn that mirror towards herself in order to uncover her own private strength.

I will say the idea of this book is a great one and I do love a story about seeing a character transform and rise above tragedy, but An Untamed State didn’t sit well with me for a number of reasons.

Please pardon my lengthy spiel...

Though the prose is straightforward and pretty flat for my taste, Gay takes laborious pains to describe the bodily mutilation done to Miri at the callous hands of the Commander and his disciples as they try to physically and psychologically rip her apart. With distressing repetitive lines (“I’m nobody”, “I’m dead”, “I’m dirty”) the violence is in your face and raw, but as it is so vile, so jarring that it’s a disservice to its plot as after a while the action loses its shock value and becomes tedious, even boring. This is terrible to say as it makes me feel insensitive to Miri’s plight. There are some stomach-churning triggers that note how morality has left the building and I feel for Miri, honest, but Gay is too busy exhaustively trying to make us feel every horrific assault, relying on dramatic scenes ripped from a cheesy ‘80s action film that it loses all sense of being aware.

There is little to no context as to why poverty drives people to commit violent acts. Why men have a capacity for violence against women, why some women turn a blind-eye to violence when it involves their own gender...none of this is even dwelled upon. Instead terrible, silly dialogue is passed between the characters and it thinly tells and never shows. Just listen to the Commander. He is so cartoonish I was waiting for the “muwhahaha” laughter and the twisting of the handlebar mustache. When the big questions are asked, too much space is also spent on the insipid relationship between Miri and her husband, Michael, as a troubling literary decision to juxtapose these horrific rape scenes with Miri’s memories of their immature courtship and “passionate”, sweaty sex-a-thons took me right of the text.

Oh, and Miri and Michael, good gravy…where do I begin? As much as I like a good unlikeable character, Miri is just too damn difficult to root for. Look I didn’t want her to be a saint, and Gay seems to have written her intentionally as a self-absorbed, privileged bore in order for us to see a grand transformation, but Miri’s growth (or lack thereof) was so weakly mapped out that I could never connect with her and I felt numb to her whole ordeal.

Miri is being touted as a ‘strong and fearless’ character when she really operates on the opposite. She fears almost everything in her life from first dates to having a baby. Most people would flip a coin, seek prayer, talk to their gal pal/spouse, or cry into a glass of wine but not our “fearless” Miri, she makes grand exits by hopping in her car with endless gas and drives across state lines and runs through cornfields. She is drawn so ridiculous and her immaturity towards every little thing prior to her kidnapping doesn’t scream “aspiring strong character” to me. So in the aftermath of her capture as she attempts to reassemble herself, the PTSD just heighten her ugliest attributes and I felt absolutely terrible for not sympathizing with someone under extreme duress because she had been so insufferable beforehand.

I also couldn’t stand her husband Michael who was dressed up to be some Chris Hemsworth-looking “Super Hero Liberal White Guy”. Everything about him is a White Male Fantasy trope --- he is overwhelmingly handsome, smart, popular, a devoted father and husband --- he was just diamond flawless. Just unbelievable. He was the most patient man ever as no matter how many objects and tantrums Miri throws at him, he forgives her at every senseless turn still super enraptured with her. Gay tries real hard to formulate this epic romance between them due to the rampant love making they were doing, but what’s love making got to do with it? Not a damn thing as they are both far from charming. During their number of arguments, you get a sense that them being an interracial couple is what is truly driving the riffs between them, but Gay dances around this character development, not exposing the elephant in the room when it was right there begging for examination. Their whole relationship just irked me and left me feeling indifferent to them. I felt more sympathy for their children who are sort of afterthoughts in this book.

In fact a lot of the relationships between the characters in the story weren’t fleshed out as I didn’t grasp Miri’s parents at all. They were just so robotic that when Miri is released they act as if she just went for a stroll in the park and got bit by some mosquito bites. It was just too routine and icy and it made me wonder if Miri’s parents set up the kidnapping on purpose --- now that would’ve been a sinister twist!

Add to that, Gay also really never places you in Haiti. She never allows you to learn about its sociopolitical structure or how the people operate. Nothing beyond: “it’s a lawless land” and oh, yeah, the blue water. The country is just continuously belittled without context with Gay oddly relishing in its stereotypes and making it seem that every person in Haiti is a despicable person with twitchy trigger fingers. I found that irresponsible and disrespectful and I was surprised to find that Gay is Haitian-American herself because she paints the place and its people with such a broad stroke of stereotypical paint that it all dries dull, listless, and streaky.

Also (and maybe I’m reading too much into this) I can’t shake off that this book has a “White Savior” complex about it when it comes down to Michael and his family. That Whiteness is good and safe. That Whiteness will always love and save you in your time of grief. All you need to cleanse your soul is to run through the corn stalks of Nebraska and gain solace from your once previously racist and cruel mother-in-law. Gay is really asking a lot for us to buy Lorraine’s sudden change of heart when she was just so cantankerous and disgusted by Miri’s existence previously. Now she’s being sweet and patient, bathing her feet and feeding her and getting along famously with her sister? It’s just an odd way of plotting considering Gay being such a staunch critic against the ‘White savior’ trope in her essays, especially towards films like The Help and Django Unchained. Just read the race and media section in Bad Feminist, Gay’s non-fiction femme tome --- it’s amazing it’s the same author. I’m just baffled at her decision to make the least harmful characters White, while the devious and flippant behavior comes from the Black characters.

From reading about kidnapping victims and hearing about the terror and stripping of identity that they endured, it just makes this story, Miri, and her “development” a thin narrative. I know Gay is writing a fictional account as it originally came from one of her short stories, “Things I Know About Fairy Tales”, and while the short story was more engaging and insightful, on elaboration it just became so bloated and cheap, without any sort of wisdom, and too much sensationalism to be taken serious. I don’t want to say that Gay isn’t writing anything important --she is --- there are some serious horrors and issues that are present and are steeped in reality, but I take issue with how she approached it, not about the subject matters themselves. Gay doesn’t know if she wants to pen a feminized version of Captain Phillips, an erotic interracial romance novel or if she wants to examine what weighty subjects she has placed on the table and left to grow cold.

Also since people keep equating this to a Lifetime Movie, I beg to differ. This is much worse because with a Lifetime movie you know what you’re going to get into when you turn on their channel --- people cheating on and killing off their spouses, and laughable and in-factual bio-pics about Saved By The Bell and Whitney Houston. An Untamed State is a blatant bait-n-switch, as it is touted as a smart literary examination of rape culture, sexism, trauma, and of Haiti’s shaky economic structure when it’s really just an emotionally manipulating and badly written book that doesn’t show off Gay’s writing attributes to the best of their ability.

Shame...I wanted to like this.

UPDATE (3/23/16): Seems like they are making An Untamed State into a movie (which was prob. the intent all along...). Conflicted in my feelings about this considering how I like the women involved in this production. Maybe the movie will color in what the book only partially outlined?
Profile Image for Suz.
1,160 reviews604 followers
February 24, 2015
2.5 stars.

I was looking forward to reading this for quite some time. It wasn’t really ‘hype’ but I felt an expectation with this one. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. I wasn’t fazed with the violence, but I absolutely wasn’t a fan of either of our main players here, Mireille or Michael. I lagged about half way through, and mostly read to finish, not to enjoy.

Mireille is a Haitian woman, who’s happy living in Miami with her adoring husband Michael. She is kidnapped outside of her parents mansion in front of her husband and baby son. She endures days and days of abuse in the hand of her violent kidnappers. The abuse she suffers is captured really well, her suffering both internal and external is visualised by the reader easily, I think this is fantastic writing, and also as a debut an awesome piece of work (only one I didn’t love personally) also interesting was the intricacies of a family that doesn’t flow the way it should, her parents growing up with nothing, amounting this nothing to amazing wealth, and the lengths a father will go to to keep this wealth in a whole state at the peril of a daughter that should be beloved.

I honestly didn’t like the personalities of the two main characters, they weren’t an enjoyable pair to read about – regardless of the horrible nature of the storyline. Their quirks and just down right natures didn’t appeal (to me).

But as reading should always do, it taught me an awful lot about a topic I’m unfamiliar – the country of Haiti and it’s desperate way.

My favourite character hands down was Lorraine. She had such a nice way with the ‘after’ Mireille, who told her story in the before and after of her brutal ordeal.

Profile Image for Melanie.
279 reviews133 followers
July 29, 2016
This is the very disturbing story of a woman (Mireille) kidnapped for ransom in Haiti. The story moves back and forth in time. Mireille tells the story of her kidnapping, her life "before" and her life "after". There are brutal scenes of rape and torture but it tells the story of Mireille and her husband Michael's love. I did not really "like" most of the characters in the book (including Mireille). I found myself getting very frustrated with Mireille in the "after" but that being said, I cannot imagine trying to heal from something like this so I really could not help but sympathize with her. I really loved the relationship between Mireille and Lorraine (her mother-in-law). It brought tears to my eyes many times and seemed very realistic.

I highly recommend this book BUT not for people who have a hard time reading about sexual brutality and rape.
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