on May 6, 2014
Mirielle Duval is living a fairy tale. She is married to a wonderful man, and together they are raising a beautiful baby boy in their Florida home. However, her life is shattered when she is kidnapped while visiting her family in Haiti.
Right outside the gates of her father’s palatial Port-au-Prince estate, she is yanked from her car and held for ransom by a man named the Commander. He demands her father, one of the wealthiest men in Haiti, pay a hefty price for her return. When Mirielle’s father refuses to cooperate with the criminals on principle, her time in captivity stretches to 13 terrible days. During her imprisonment, she suffers horrible brutalities at the hand of her captors. Throughout it all, she refuses to be broken, holding on with an unshakable tenacity despite the best efforts of her tormenters.
When Mirielle is finally released and returned to her family, a whole new struggle begins. After her ordeal, she finds it hard to be around the people she loves, and she experiences debilitating post-traumatic stress. Her relationship with her family also falters, as she must face the father who chose to sacrifice his own daughter rather than cooperate with terrorists, and the mother who stands by him.
An Untamed State is one of the best and most difficult and gut-wrenching books I have read this year. Gay writes in direct, declarative sentences infused with a raw, poetic power as she portrays Mirielle’s captivity and, later, her struggle to recover emotionally. Mirielle is subjected to every kind of violence you might expect an abducted woman to endure, and Gay is unflinching in her descriptions. It’s shocking and awful and real.
“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.”
But this novel isn’t just about a woman’s abduction and abuse. It’s about privilege and the circumstances that led to her capture. In Haiti, Mirielle’s family lives like royalty in a massive estate mere minutes from the devastating poverty that defines life for most Haitians. In a place where the government is corrupt and there is little hope for bettering one’s circumstances, anger and desperation fester and grow, leading to lawlessness and violence. The rage the Commander feels against the people of privilege who keep him in the slums is valid and thought-provoking. The kidnapping is terrible, but one must also find fault with the system that, in a way, led to it.
I really loved this book. Gay is a powerful writer who eloquently handles the most difficult of subjects, and An Untamed State is going to stick with me for quite a while.