Thursday, October 11, 2007
Felin, M. Sindy. 2007. Touching Snow.
The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone. Anyone will do. Accidental killings have the same effect as on-purposed murder. Of course, this is just my own theory. My sister Delta would say that my sample size isn't big enough to draw such a conclusion. But I bet I'm right.
Thus begins Touching Snow, a dark portrait of a Haitian immigrant family lost in the depths of physical and emotional abuse. Our story begins on the last day of Karina's seventh grade year. The book covers mainly that summer between her seventh and eighth grade years. The family has many issues--too many kids in too little a space, bad parenting philosophies, and past legacies that can't be escaped. The oldest girls have never known their real father--or should I say fathers--but they've been raised by their stepfather--Gaston--a person Karina refers to as 'the daddy.' The family is large--full of children both girls and boys--and the situation is dire. They're poor and dependent on the man "black as dirt." That is their mother's phrase for describing anyone whose actions she doesn't like--no matter their skin color--I would think the phrase "devil himself" would work better in this context. (Not the Haitian one, mind you, but to paraphrase it for American readers). Within the first few chapters alone, the reader witnesses an exceedingly brutal beat-up of the oldest girl, Enid. She's not just badly beaten, she's badly beaten and burned and left for dead. She's struck unconscious. There are burns all over her back--her back literally covered in pockets of pus. Her bottom and legs so beaten, so raw that she is unable to sit or lie down. And her crime? Trying to hide the leftovers from her stepfather. The family is strange. The mother seems upset by her husband's actions, yet she is an enabler at heart. In her heart of hearts she feels her daughter--her children--and probably even herself--deserve to be treated like this. She herself beats her children, tortures them. She is an abuser herself who is powerless to stop her husband from doing the same whenever he likes. And the girls' relatives? From their aunts to uncles to good old Gram, there seems to be an undercurrent of acceptance...that this abuse is their fault. That they are getting exactly what they deserve. That they even approve of this level of discipline. The narrator, Karina, lets you know early on that someone--presumably herself--kills 'the daddy' and finally gets revenge on him for his treatment. The book was an infuriating read. The police, the social workers, the leaders at the community center, the priests, every adult with an obligation to serve and "do the right thing" turn a blind eye to this situation. They swallow each and every lie that comes out of the mothers--the wife's mouth. One of the girls points out that it doesn't matter what they say, how unbelievable their lies are--they'll believe them because they don't want to do anything about it anyway. The lies are obvious, the adults are irresponsible or naive depending on your generosity. With the violent abuse, the disparaging remarks about religion, and the extremely strong language, those looking for a clean read should look elsewhere. But those looking for a darker, realistic portrait of the effects (long and short term) of abuse, then this may be the book for you. The only ray of light in this book is the growing relationship between Karina and her friend Rachael as they begin to explore their sexual feelings.
Personally, I didn't enjoy this one. While I'm sure many people will appreciate this journey to the dark and depressing side of life--because these kinds of things do happen in the world--it took me places I didn't want to go.