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Mouths Don’t Speak, by Katia D. Ulysse.

June 22, 2017

mouths don't speak
Mouths Don’t Speak,
by Katia D. Ulysse.   Akashic Books (January 2, 2018)  FORTHCOMING

4 stars

Katia D. Ulysse was born Haiti and came to the United States when she was a teenager.  She has taught in Baltimore for 15 years, but for her Haiti is still home; central to both how she understands herself and to her writing.  Her short stories have been published in literary journals and in anthologies.

Her novel begins as the 2010 earthquake hits Haiti.  Jacqueline was born in Haiti, and now living in Baltimore with her husband and toddler daughter.  Her parents were very wealthy, and too concerned with their own lives to give Jacqueline love and attention. Instead they sent her to a boarding school in the United State,s and she remained deeply alienated from them.  Yet when the earthquake hit, she was frantic to hear from them or learn of her fate.  Her husband is a Marine, with problems of his own.  He still has severe post-traumatic stress from his time fighting in the Middle East.  When Jacqueline finally hears from her parents she decides to visit them, despite her husband’s disapproval.  Then the unthinkable happens and each character tries to deal with the new reality.

Ulysse is an intense writer, bringing her readers into the emotions of her characters.   A she tells Edwidge Danticot, she continues to be bonded to Haiti and writes out its traditions.  “I never learned how to be anything other than the Haitian me.”  She uses the Haitian style of storytelling called lodyans which mixes humor and heartbreak.  Her great-grandmother who told stories was her primary influence. (Her interview with Danticot in Salon a wonderful discussion of both writiers and haitian writing generally. )

This a powerful story, but Ulysse but sometime I felt she needed to slow down.  The resolution of issues came too quickly.  Change takes time.  But I do recommend this book to many readers.

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