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on 15 April 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"In Darkness" is narrated by a teenage boy trapped in a collapsed building after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He is telling us about his life so far, one lived as a gun-carrying gangster in the slums of Site Solèy (Cité Soleil). His story is interspersed with episodes in the life of Toussaint L'Ouverture as he leads a slave rebellion against the French government. It soon becomes clear that these two Haitians, struggling to move from darkness to light, share a powerful connection.

Lake vividly recreates the two Haitis and this is an exciting read which explores the country's difficult genesis and troubled present. The Voudou religion is a powerful presence and the descriptions of the home of the dead under the sea, the rum-drinking cigar-smoking Baron Samedi, and other deities add an otherworldly dimension to the story.

"In Darkness" has been marketed as a book for both adults and young adults. As an adult I enjoyed the novel and I didn't feel it pulled any punches or was overly simplistic (understandably details of L'Ouverture's life and politics have been simplified, something which Lake discusses in his afterword). It is indeed very violent with scenes of murder, rape, and infanticide (as well as some swearing), which may be something to bear in mind if considering the book for younger readers.
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on 17 June 2013
Author Nick Lake tells the story of a young man trapped in darkness not knowing where he is and uncertain of what is happening around him and he invites us into his tale, a story of gang life, of sibling separation and a dynamic overview of political war whilst the foundation of Haiti is being lain down by Toussaint L'Overture, a rebel forming a slavery rebellion.

What is most striking about this novel is the ideas and attitude behind it doesn't necessarily mean it is a young person's novel. This is grown up and more appropriate for an older audience as it delves into the world of Haiti and travelling back and forth in time to the formation and destructive revolution of key historical figures and the central teenage boy, trapped in darkness recapping to the reader how he arrived in a desolate hospital.

And the structure to this award winning novel is key to the development of the settings and lifestyle of central character Shorty, a young man who was separated from his sister, who had a difficult upbringing and becoming involved in gang life. Balancing his story alongside the slow build up of Haiti's history and Toussaint L'Overture, a rebel who fought for slave freedom brings along a remarkable novel of deep political history with heavy family drama, death and national angst.

As a teenage/young adult novel I was struck by the violent broadness of Nick Lake's story, it is staggeringly brutal and unafraid to skirt around drug intakes and deals, political death threats and bloody imagery. It is quite startling also to read a swear word practically on every page. So if you're planning on using this to teach or read with your teenage son or daughter, be wary this is a heavy drama.

However the central character is well established as a teenager with his gangster attitude, his friends and often Nick Lake inserts references to modern rappers which some may find funny and others might find ridiculous. As if the use of slang, race and imagery generate would be classed as stereotypical.

The stand out feature to this 2012 novel is Shorty's moving reflection towards his family. With regards to his lost sister Nick Lake writes in a beautiful way that only a sibling could really appreciate. He generates a feeling of a connection with writing from the point of view of Shorty and scripting some heart rendering statements about his sister's outlook on life, how she was, how she cared, what she looked like and now, what little he can remember. It may generate a tear or two.

If your history knowledge is as small as mine then fear not as when this book gets into its groove there is some strong scene setting from Nick Lake and detailed history to entice and intrigue. The problem with this is that it can feel long winded and by being dragged into a deep meaningful history lesson, `In Darkness' can lose some of the intensity that the characters can brilliantly generate. And perhaps that's a key when this book gets going.

It's intense and violent and mentally strong and you feel, an important novel given the history of Haiti. The structure of the book works well, going from the present to the past and back allows the author to tell two stories at once and this works having a break in between the heavy and the light side of life. But as a result the flow of the story is corrupted and it is challenging to recapture that feeling of being right there in the heart of war to being in the hospital.

In Darkness therefore is quite a unique book to place on a shelf. It feels important, and it is, and at the same time despite the wonderful drama and detailed historical overview, it is quite a challenging read.
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on 1 February 2012
IN DARKNESS is an extraordinary novel that has lingered with me long after I finished the last page. It begins in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti: buried under the rubble of a hospital, a teenage boy waits for...rescue? Oblivion? Redemption? Alone in the darkness, he tells his story - a story of love, ghosts and violence; of the allure of gangs and of the pact you must make with yourself to survive.

That barely scratches the surface of what this remarkable book accomplishes. IN DARKNESS is a bold and impassioned piece of storytelling: just read it!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Born in an earthquake, fifteen year old Shorty now seems likely to die after another. Deep under the rubble of a Haitian hospital, he lies trapped amidst blood and limbs as rats scamper. Despairing of rescue, he reflects on his short violent life as a gangster. Interwoven are accounts of Toussaint L'Ouverture's freeing of slaves from the French in the late 1700's. Surely the two have nothing in common...?

This proves a challenging, uncomfortable read - no punches pulled when describing the ghastliness faced both then and now. Delirious, Shorty pines for his adored, long missing twin sister Marguerite and recalls colleagues who perished messily. His own exploits would seem to have been charmed, thanks to a pwen. A pwen? Be prepared for many new words and for matters mystical.

Be advised there is nothing really that comforts and the unwary may soon be overwhelmed. Those persevering are likely to become caught up in a work that clutches more than most, they perhaps to emerge somewhat drained.

For once, the stars given do not reflect having "liked" or "loved". They instead acknowledge an impressive talent that knows how to grip and to squeeze.
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on 10 August 2012
"Life must be paid for with death"
Shorty is trapped in darkness, buried beneath the rubble of the hospital he was in. He is all alone, calling for help, but no one comes. He has already seen enough darkness, enough violence to last anyone a lifetime. Born in Site Soley, the slums of Haiti, a place controlled by gangsters, he has done and seen terrible things. He has killed. He has been killed. He has seen babies abandoned - still alive - in the rubbish. But through it all, through the rubble, he burns with a desire, a need, to find his twin sister, who is the soul that completes his, and who was stolen from him seven years ago. As time goes on, this desire, this flame, burns brighter and brighter - so strong it intertwines with Toussaint l'Ouverture, the slave who led the Haitian revolution, one of the most inspirational and amazing stories of freedom, hope and betrayal, two-hundred years old...
Maybe Shorty isn't as alone in darkness as he thought he was...
I love powerful books, and my God was this powerful. I was hooked from the word go. It was so strong - so strong that "strong" is too weak a word. It was beautiful, heart-wrenching, emotional, horrible, breath-taking, overwhelming, beyond words. I'm still taking it all in, even after all this time. I haven't gotten it out of my head - it's been lodged in there from the first page and has still refused to leave. Of all the books to have made an emotional nest in my head, I am so, so glad it's this one. It's shocking, utterly unique. I can't recommend it enough!
The characters were amazing. Incredible. Shorty... his voice just struck me from the word go. I wondered who he was and what he had done, felt terrible that he was trapped like he was. So many dreadful, dreadful things had happened to him - and so young as well. And as many bad things that he'd done, as much "hate" he felt, even though he was a "chimère" (gangsta), I loved him so, so, so much. And I couldn't hate or blame him for any of the bad things he'd done. Toussaint was a slave and the most amazing man who wanted freedom, but through peace not violence. He was just incredible, the most wonderful leader and the best person.
All the minor characters were as brilliantly padded out as the main characters. I loved getting to know them through Shorty's memories, through Toussaint's. The ones who really stuck out for me were Shorty's sister Marguerite, who he still idolised after all this time; and Dread Wilmé, a "big dog" gangsta, who actually made the Site better, even if it was by killing and a ruthless hand.
The writing was amazing, stunning. I felt like I was there, trapped with Shorty - God, it was terrible, the sensation of being trapped, buried, alone, surrounded by bodies. I loved how Shorty slipped in words of his own tongue - it made it feel Shorty. And, god, it was so beautiful, so heart-breakingly, horribly beautiful, so emotionally overwhelming. The plot was stunning - I loved seeing how Shorty's and Toussaint's stories intertwined, how their minds became one. Incredible. I was just hooked to every word and it was just so marvellously unpredictable.
And I loved the culture: it was so beautiful and vivid. The way Shorty described twins - they were magic, "Marassa", shared a soul. All the gods were so amazing as well; I loved learning about them all. The zombie part was so fascinating - horrible too, of course! The culture in this book was just so amazing and complex, beautiful and horrible, so vivid and just really, really intrigued me.
I love books based on history and In Darkness was in a whole world of its own. For one, I've never ever read a book about Haiti. Two: this was the most insanely emotional, powerful historical I've ever read - and trust me, I've read so many. But what made this totally unique is how the past intertwined with the present in this most amazing story. In fact, I adored In Darkness so much that "adored" is again not strong enough. In Darkness is just beyond words. It is amazing, so powerful, so emotional. I will never, ever in a million years forget this book.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In 2010 a catastrophic earthquake devastated the country of Haiti which was already the poorest in the Western hemisphere. `In Darkness' commences with an invented description of a teenage gangster buried beneath a collapsed building, but as the book proceeds it relies on factual and authentically documented material to launch an exposé on unthinkable poverty, grotesque slum conditions, gang culture and inhuman operation of boy soldiers. Author Nick Lake writes fiction but he intertwines characters and events that are real - the slave rebellion in Haiti was sparked in 1791 by a Vodou ceremony at Bois Caiman, Toussaint did succeed in battle over major Colonial powers in the late 18th century, President Aristide did resign in 2004 before a collapse of Haitian society, and the UN Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti was an attempt to overcome armed gangs and bring order.

`In Darkness' presents a fascinating combination of fact and fiction as it utilizes a form of 2-way reincarnation linking to both descendants and ancestors. All experience their own versions of atrocities, and Nick Lake deals sensitively with their emotive life-changing situations. Narrative is intriguingly divided under 2 alternating chapter headings of `Now' and `Then' plus a short `Always' to link the explanatory story of the boy entombed by the earthquake and Toussaint's fight for freedom from slavery The `Now' merges with the `Then' which tells the fascinating history of Haiti and reveals the appalling circumstances of today - the country continues to endure political upheaval, it has a failing economy and there are recurring health crises; plus ongoing natural disasters. It is not evident that `In Darkness' is a children's book as Vine blurb - it is fascinating and thought provoking for all ages.
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on 25 April 2013
Alison for [...]

Told in the voices of a black slave from Haiti's past and a gangster teenager from Haiti's near past, `In Darkness' walks us through two of the most important parts of Haiti's history, in a very personal way. We have the story of Toussaint, an illiterate slave who becomes literate during a Voudon ceremony and then leads the slaves to their freedom. We also follow Shorty, a teenager who has grown up in the slums. The story starts in Shorty's voice, just after the Haitian earthquake that destroyed the country. Shorty was in hospital with a gunshot wound and is now trapped under the rubble. In alternating chapters they tell their story until we get to the point where their stories combine.

I will hold my hands up and say that I wasn't sure about `In Darkness'. In spite of some absolutely fantastic reviews I just didn't know what to expect from it. It's one of those books that seem very `worthy' (and yes it is) and on the hole that tends to put me off (bad librarian!). I've read in other books that it's not a book that you enjoy and that is completely right. It is however a book that evokes a lot of emotion. Incredibly dark, sometimes disturbing the book does include a lot of violence. But the story is about very violent places and times and is therefore fitting and never feels gratuitous. Because of this some librarians have questioned its place on the shortlist as they have doubts about giving the book to Year 7's to read. Whilst I understand their doubts I don't think that this book could have been written any other way, yet the writing and the characterisation means that it deserves its place. I think that children of their age tend to self censor when it comes to their reading and will either skirt over the bits they can't cope with or leave the book unread. Despite the darkness present in the book it does end with a glimmer of hope.

As said above I can't say that I enjoyed `In Darkness', it's not that type of book, but I do feel that I gained something in reading it. I know very little about Haiti and its history and the historian in me was interested in learning about its past. A lack of knowledge also meant that I could enjoy the story instead of thinking about how accurate it was. This is a book that also concentrates on relationships between people, between Mother and Son, Father and Son, between gang member and between siblings. This gives the book a human element that is one of its greatest strengths. It makes the focus of the book become the human cost of the events concentrating on the injustices of the times.

Another interesting factor of the book is the way it deals with the Voodoo practices of the characters. There is a such a matter of factness about it the it is obvious that this is just the beliefs of the characters. Whether there is any truth to the power of voodoo is left to the reader.

Although this is an incredibly strong book I'm not sure that it is likely to win Carnegie. I think that it probably lacks the wider appeal that the winner should have.

Verdict: Dark, violent and sometimes unsettling but still a very interesting read.
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VINE VOICEon 25 April 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Haiti earthquake proves the starting point for this young adult novel. The main character, Shorty, has already suffered more than most in his young life and now he is stuck under the rubble following the earthquake. The novel tells of his life and his memories of this while awaiting someone to find him and pull him out.

I found this book to be a great read, heard hitting and often needed tissues throughout the book. I could see this book being used in years to come to be used in a classroom, for students to learn about the earthquake and subsequent problems the country encountered.

I will be looking out for more from this author in the future.
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VINE VOICEon 14 September 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The characters speak in such a convincing patois I was amazed to later discover that Nick Lake had not been to Haiti. He does however have a master's degree in linguistics not to mention the ability to inhabit characters that belong to worlds far removed from our own. He parallels contemporary Haiti after a terrible earthquake with a revolutionary Haiti, painting a casual brutality and exploitation of slaves that is sometimes unbearable to read. This may be a challenging read for some but the unexpected world is reward enough. I will never forget the scene in which Shorty and his sister wait with a stranger's dying baby by the side of the road in the hope that aid workers would stop and help.
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VINE VOICEon 1 July 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sometimes I find that children's books are far more interesting and this certainly was one of them.

The story starts with the outcome of Haiti's earthquake. We meet Shorty who is 15 and is trapped in the rubble. He was in hospital at the time recovering from a bullet wound. As he begins to starve he starts to think about his twin sister who was kidnapped in an attack that killed his father (he was murdered).

He wants to survive so he can find his sister.

Shorty then starts to dream about Toussaint l'Ouverture who was a slave 200 years ago and turned into a revolutionary (he freed the slaves of Haiti). Toussaint dreams of Haiti in the future and of a young boy trapped in the rubble. His story shows how you can overcome anything. Toussaint gives Shorty strength even though he thinks he will die in the wreckage.

From the back cover "a bullet wound, a missing sister and a life of crime become just pieces of a far bigger story and what Shorty discovers in the darkness is just the beginning".

This is not an easy read but does give the reader an insight into a country filled with suffering. It is a moving story but it's very good.
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