Grit, hard work and determination shine on every page in this semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel.
Haitian immigrant and protagonist Grace Saint-Jean desperately wants to become educated. She studies hard—in fact, that’s all she does—and earns a Ph.D., but by narrative’s end, the only option is to leave the country before she is murdered. Although more historical background and information about Haiti today would have enhanced the story, Titus’ straightforward prose reveals the realities of life when most people are illiterate (some 80%) and have almost no chance of success outside the military or the government. The narrative falls into three sections. In the first and most developed, Grace’s laundress mother, Therese, and sometimes her illiterate fisherman father, Mondestin, overcome the obstacle of poverty to provide an opportunity for Grace to go to school. Therese—whose wretched life as an illegitimate child of the wealthy Ministre Lemoine family is also detailed—turns first to the Lemoines and later to the charitable Germaine and Justin Bonhomme to help her successful student child. The Bonhommes live up to their name and provide Grace with a loving and stable environment. Alas, she shares her good fortune with another adopted child, the sociopathic Marc, who reappears near the end. The second section offers a perfunctory description-in-summary of Grace’s years in Paris earning graduate degrees, her slowly budding love/friendship with Jean-Michel and her plans to start a school with her best friend from home, Carmelle-Marie. The action picks back up in the last section when Grace returns home, where she, Carmelle-Marie and their friends are carted off to jail, accused of being Communists. Grace escapes through a bureaucratic mistake, but Carmelle-Marie is murdered by the dastardly Marc, now a brutal military leader.
The narrative draws admirable strength from the true stories that provided the inspiration, but the author’s didactic recounting nearly strips it out. Fortunately, content overcomes style and Grace’s triumphant story emerges intact.