'Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.'- Angela Carter

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Review: Chris Rakunas - 'Tears for the Mountain'

Tears for the Mountain - Chris Rakunas


On Tuesday, January 12th 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook the island nation of Haiti. The United States Agency for International Development estimated the death toll to be somewhere between 46,000 and 85,000 people, with 220,000 injured and over 1.5 million homeless. Many organizations, both from the U.S. and abroad, responded to the appeal for humanitarian aid. Dr. Stephen Schroering and Chris Rakunas went to Haiti to deliver over 21,000 pounds of medical and surgical supplies to the New Life Children's Home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and several other hospitals. In Tears for the Mountain, Chris recounts his mission to deliver these supplies to the earthquake-ravaged island nation. Chris discusses both the triumphs and heartbreaks of the trip, the problems with distributing aid in a nation lacking the most basic infrastructure, and his unexpected encounter with a notorious Haitian warlord. A portion of the proceeds for this book will be donated to the New Life Children's Home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

My Review: 4/5*

As this was my first non-fiction review and to be honest, one of the very rare non-fiction books that I ever read, I was a bit unsure about Rakunas up on his offer of reviewing his book. Once I’d read the synopsis I found it almost impossible to say no. I was intrigued to find out the events he’d encountered during his journey to the then destroyed land of Haiti and his thoughts and feelings upon his return. Having finished the book in a mere two days it goes without saying that book completely captivated me and left me feeling stunned at the contrasts between Haiti and that of ‘modern’ - for want of a better word – life.

Within his narrative, Rakunas succeeds in drawing us as the reader into his experiences: when he described his horror it mirrored mine, his sadness, his dedication and his commitment to getting those packages delivered were clear throughout. He constantly reminds us of how fortunate we are and how fortunate he feels that he is able to leave this place which brings even further to life the horrors for the people of Haiti. This isn’t a nightmare that they can just wake up from or leave. In my opinion, the most horrific thing about reading about his journey is that it’s possible to – for a brief moment – forget that this isn’t a piece of fiction. 

As a reader I found myself lost within this new, foreign world and being unable to comprehend such a monumental difference between Haiti and the USA which Rakunas had just left. It was always a very real and jarring shock when I recalled that this was not a piece of fiction, but an actual diary of his time in Haiti.

His final pages of the book bring about so much sympathy for the Haitians who have had to suffer through this – citizens were willing to kidnap in order to get food, they didn’t have access to aspirin, all things which we take for granted – but he also makes clear how much of an impact the five days had on him. He seems totally lost within his own mind, unable to get out. The most horrific thing is the realisation that unloading, organising and distributing these packages; although it was what felt like a huge operation at the time, may have only made a small difference within the life of these people. Reading this book was truly eye-opening as we process the truth within his words that not long after this journey, the help from overseas would stop and the world would move on, but these Haitians would be trapped, trying to survive illness and starvation which could so easily be solved in such a short journey across the sea.

I would definitely recommend this book. It is emotional, moving and brings to reality the horrors certain areas of the world have to cope with.

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