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Travel Essays & Travelogues

The World Is Moving around Me

A Memoir of the Haiti Earthquake

by (author) Dany Laferrière

translated by David Homel

Arsenal Pulp Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2012
Essays & Travelogues, Caribbean & West Indies, Cultural Heritage
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2012
    List Price

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On January 12, 2010, novelist Dany Laferriere had just ordered dinner at a Port-au-Prince restaurant with a friend when the earthquake struck. He survived; some 300,000 others did not. The quake caused widespread destruction and left over 1 million homeless; it also revealed flaws in the impoverished nation's infrastructure that will take a generation from which to recover.

This moving and revelatory book is an eyewitness account of the quake and its aftermath. In a series of vignettes, Laferriere reveals the shock, rage, and grief experienced by those around him, the acts of heroism he witnessed, and his own sense of survivor guilt. At one point, his nephew, astonished at still being alive, asks his uncle not to write about "this," "this" being too horrible to give up so easily to those who were not there. But as a writer, Laferriere can't make such a promise. Still, the question is raised: to whom does this disaster belong? Who gets to talk and write about it? In this way, this book is not only the chronicle of a natural disaster; it is also a personal meditation about the responsibility and power of the written word in a manner that echoes certain post-Holocaust books.

The book also includes a foreword by Michaelle Jean, former Governor General of Canada and Special Envoy for Haiti for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

About the authors

Dany Laferriere was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1953. He is the author of fourteen novels, including I am a Japanese Writer, Heading South, and the award-winning How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired. Laferriere is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the Prix Carbet des Lyceens and the Prix Medicis in France, and the Governor General's Literary Award in Canada. In 2013, he become the first Quebecer and the first Haitian to be elected to the prestigious Academie francaise as an "immortal," joining the ranks of such literary greats as Victor Hugo and Eugene Ionesco. He lives in Montreal.

Dany Laferrière's profile page

David Homel was born in Chicago in 1952 and left that city in 1970 for Paris, living in Europe the next few years on odd jobs and odder couches. He has published eight novels, from Electrical Storms in 1988 to The Teardown, which won the Paragraph Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction in 2019. He has also written young adult fiction with Marie-Louise Gay, directed documentary films, worked in TV production, been a literary translator, journalist, and creative writing teacher. He has translated four books for Linda Leith Publishing: Bitter Roase (2015), (2016), Nan Goldin: The Warrior Medusa (2017) and Taximan (2018). Lunging into the Underbrush is his first book of non-fiction. He lives in Montreal.

David Homel's profile page

Editorial Reviews

The book, a lyrical description of the moments, hours and days following Haiti's terrible 7.3 magnitude earthquake in 2010, is nothing short of remarkable.

Laferriere's moving memoir resists the levelling, numbing flow of disasters that have befallen Haiti since its revolutionary birth in 1804. The work also goes a long way in answering a distressing question its author raises early on: "What is the value of culture in the face of a disaster?"
-Quill and Quire

Quill and Quire

Laferriere is adept at writing the tragedy in real time, exploring the way his countrymen weathered such tragedy with grace, and how international media held on too tight to the desolation, catching little to nothing of the spirit of the people ... Laferriere gives life and breadth to the tragedy the way few others could, given his knowledge of his homeland, providing an account that should be required reading.
-rob mclennan's blog

rob mclennan's blog

The general tone of Laferriere's on-the-spot memoir - calm, dispassionate, told in measured sentences - may surprise some. His impressionistic account, arranged anthology-style under headings like "The First Bodies," "A Man in Mourning " and "The Desire to Help," is confined at any given moment to what one person could see and perceive in that moment. But what might at first seem a limitation turns out to be a perfectly apt strategy: the enormity of what has happened is pieced together only gradually, subject to the same shocks and roadblocks affecting anyone else on the ground at that time ... If it's not absurd to say it, we're lucky Laferriere was there.
-Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Sun

Keen observation, incisive analysis and passionate engagement mark this author's account of the 2010 earthquake that devastated his native Haiti ... Through vignettes that range from a paragraph to a couple of pages, novelist Laferriere delivers a knockout punch through prose favoring matter-of-fact understatement over sentimental histrionics.
-Kirkus Reviews (STARRED REVIEW)

Kirkus Reviews

A compelling firsthand account with cleverly crafted imagery and skilfully interwoven narrative strands about a country shook to its bare bones, fighting to defeat the shadow of death ... Just as T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land is made up of seemingly disjointed images that work together to create a whole, so too is Laferriere's memoir. It is this 'heap of broken images' - to borrow Eliot's words - that are held together by the strongest thread of all: culture.
-ARC magazine


Laferriere has a lucid plain-style which may remind American readers of the best of Ernest Hemingway, specifically Hemingway's commitment to writing about the actions that produce emotions, rather than about feelings themselves ... The glimpses Laferriere records of people on the devastated streets of Port-au-Prince accrue to give a deeper substance to the idea of Haitian indomitability.

Laferriere has written not only a valuable book but also a necessary one, a slim but potent volume reminding us that the people of Haiti deserve far better than the cards handed to them by fate ... In a just world, this book will excite renewed passion for helping Haiti and also a large audience for Laferriere himself, a talented writer who deserves a wide readership.
-National Post

National Post

Laferriere's memoir delivers much more food for thought about the human condition in the wake of a natural disaster than the superficial accounts broadcast by our up-to-the-minute media, with its barrage of statistics and horrific images.
-Montreal Review of Books

Montreal Review of Books

The World is Moving Around Me highlights the stoicism and resolve of the earthquake's victims and presents considered thoughts on Haiti's past and best way forward.
-The Tyee

The Tyee

Laferriere's style is thoughtful and understated ... In the end, this small, hushed book-in many ways very different from anything he's written before-is Laferriere's response to both the earthquake and his nephew's prompting. It is, then, something of a book of writerly advice after all-on how to process reality, how to reassemble in words and portraits a land of the living and dead. Reading this book three years after the quake, amid Haiti's faltering reconstruction, Laferriere's vision of a potentially reborn country may seem innocent and illusory. And yet it is hard to resist his faith in Haiti's resilient cultural life-its writers, musicians, healers, and artists who've historically expressed Haitians' mix of joy and pain. He finds inspiration especially in the so-called "naive" landscape painters whose work sought "to show nature in its splendor when all around there is desolation." Laferriere's book can itself be seen as an example of this, a ringing affirmation of his conclusion that "culture is the only thing that can stand up to the earthquake.
-Words Without Borders

Words Without Borders

The World is Moving Around Me is unpretentious, starkly honest and good-humoured. Laferriere, best known in English translation for How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, and a prize-winning novelist in the francophone literary world, is a masterful writer and his memoir, told in a clear and simple voice beautifully rendered by translator David Homel, is true to his vision of the essential role of culture, "the only thing that can stand up to the earthquake ... intellectual culture [and] what structures a nation. If we don't want to turn into a victim nation, we have to keep moving. We'll cry later when things are better."
-The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail

Laferriere felt moved by the shock of the quake. We feel moved by his perspective, touching portraits, the grief, the grace and humour of the Haitian people.
-Toronto Star

Toronto Star

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