London, Bloomsbury, 2012, 333p
My Carnegie journey has come to an end with this brilliant story of tragedy and death. It has been a brilliant experience, but I am so glad I am not responsible for choosing a winner.
Simultaneously telling the story of a young boy trapped under the the rubble of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and the battle for liberation of the Haitian slaves under Toussaint L'Ouverture in the 18th century, In Darkness is a heart-breaking novel. I knew very little about the history of Haiti before reading this story, but now desire to know more. The story is about struggle against oppression, the fight for freedom and the desperation caused by imprisonment, both for black slaves under French rule, and young gangsters in the slums of Port-au-Prince.
Also, perhaps because I just read it, I saw some parallels between this story and Midwinterblood. Both authors explore the possibility of souls being able to survive throughout time, living through different bodies, seeing the world through different eyes. In Lake's story, both Toussaint and Shorty share the same soul, and in their dreams, they see the lives of others who have lived before and will live after them.
The story of the slave uprising is incredible, though Nick Lake admits he may have sugar-coated some of the events. Toussaint is an inspiring leader, preferring to maintain the land and spare the lives of the masters where possible. He doesn't want revenge, he just wants freedom; but death is a price that sometimes must be paid.
The young modern protagonist is an endearing character - misunderstood, scared, and desperately missing his twin sister, he joins the Route 9 gang in order to get revenge on the men who killed his father. He helps deal drugs and punish those who don't pay up. He admits he felt that rush when killing people, but you understand why - he has no money, no family, and little hope of escape from the slum. His best hope is to find a place within the street gangs. They respect him, and fear him; they believe he is blessed by the gods.
Vodou is a significant theme in this novel - both stories massively revolve around the belief in symbols, idols and magic. Men follow Toussaint because they believe he is possessed by the spirit of the lwa (deity) of war, and the gangstas trust Shorty because he is a twin and carries a pwen, a small stone containing the spirit of the lwa.
This novel is dark both metaphorically and literally, and the theme of imprisonment is recurrent. Trapped under the rubble after the Haitian earthquake, most of the story is told by a young boy trying to stay sane. He is imprisoned in his underground cave, like Toussaint is imprisoned by the laws of slavery and the racist assumptions of the white. The parallels between the lives of the two character, living over two hundred years apart, are full of darkness, sadness, and death. And yet, it is incredible how you forgive them both their wrong-doings, as you hear the story from their perspectives. Nick Lake makes you think about heroicism - he makes you question yourself and what you would do if you were them. Unfortunately, I fear many of us could never be so brave.