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Stories from Haiti: a review of Yanique Beliard-Michel’s memoir, “Unique in America”, about American immigration and growing up Haitian

Book cover of Unique in America

Yanique Beliard-Michel’s memoir Unique in America is a recently published memoir about growing up in Haiti and emigrating to the U.S. Her story is extremely important when it comes to the canon of (Haitian) immigrant literature and experiences of Haitian immigrants in America. Haiti, like many colonised places in the world can be forgotten when it comes to history and literature and memoir’s like Beliard-Michel’s remind the literary world of the countries importance and unique culture.

The story is an intergenerational tale that looks at Beliard-Michel’s life and her unique household where grandmother and mother reign supreme. Her father is out of the picture and the social and cultural implications of being a husband-less “manman pitit” household are echoed throughout the memoir. However this does not stop her entrepreneurial mother or grandmother from running a successful fabric and sewing business.

Haiti, like many places that experiences civil unrest, dictatorships, and corrupt militia, has a painful history under dangerous rulers. People go missing, loyalties are questions, and everyone is on edge. However, this does not seem to touch Beliard-Michel’s family too directly.

The hopes and dreams of a new life in America are bittersweet and Beliard-Michel becomes a “manman pitit” by force when her husband passes away from cancer. Struggling with a new life in America and learning her place in a new country is something that resonates through all immigrant experiences.

Despite the great potential of this story, the writing style is disjointed at times and it felt more like a school report than a story. In my opinion, great creative nonfiction stories still have to have an element of fiction in the way the stories are crafted and told and this memoir fell flat. In saying that, I hope to see many more stories for Haiti, fiction and nonfiction, and I loved Beliard-Michel’s use of Haitian Creole and French.

What Haitian authors are you reading and loving at the moment? As always, share the reading love.

NOTE: This novel was was accessed through Netgalley and Trafford Publishing for review purposes.

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