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An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Cover of An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Published by: Grove Atlantic

Published on: May 6, 2014

Page Count: 368

Genre: Fiction

My Reading Format: Audiobook purchased through Audible.com.

Audiobook Published by: Audible Studios

Narrator: Robin Miles

Audiobook Length: 11 hours 35 minutes

Available Formats: Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook

Summary from the Publisher

Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.

Note: Due to the graphic nature of what happens to Mireille, this book may not be for every reader.

My Review

There were many occasions within the first half of An Untamed State where I was unsure if I could continue. The intimate details of the life of a kidnapped woman whose only true defense was to separate herself from her life before she was taken from her car on the streets of Port-Au-Prince was excruciating. As much as I felt that I owed it to Mireille to sit vigil with her through that experience, I desperately wanted to run away and pretend I never started the book in the first place. Thankfully there were those who held my hands during those times and urged me to continue. As they promised, there was most certainly a huge payoff, but it didn’t come without a price. In so many ways, the process of physical, emotional, spiritual, and marital recovery from those 13 days of captivity was even more painful than the abuse itself.

Had Mireille married a fellow American of Haitian descent I’m not sure how her marriage would have survived the kidnapping. As it was, Mireille and Michael had a bicultural marriage. Just as Mireille felt that Michael judged Haiti too harshly at the beginning of their relationship and marriage, he did not understand culturally what was happening to his wife when she was abducted. Then, on top of those cultural differences, Michael felt weak when running up against his strong willed father-in-law who insisted on running things his way. To give myself a break from thinking about Mireille’s plight, I would consider how desperate and helpless Michael must have felt as he watched his father-in-law engage in a pissing match with his wife’s captors. All the while, he must have been imagining what she was enduring and wondering how they were going to recover if and when it was over.

Reading An Untamed State in audio is a powerful, shattering experience. I am in awe of Robin Miles’ narration. Her composure throughout was nothing short of extraordinary. She puts so much of herself into Mireille that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she herself was there in Mireille’s cage, opening herself up to all that Mireille experienced. I could not have survived this journey without her steady presence. Robin Miles is a rock and her performance here is the gold standard to which all audiobook narrators should aspire.

An Untamed State rubbed me raw. What Roxane Gay wrote was brutally honest and exquisite. I needed to stay in my own space and process what it all meant to me as I went along. I kept reliving those less obvious consequences of Mireille’s captivity. I kept reflecting on Mireille’s relationships with her mother and her mother-in-law. The way I felt leaving this story was very much the same as leaving the movie theater after watching Saving Private Ryan. There was horror, there was betrayal, and ultimately there was a most beautiful redemption. It is impossible to leave this book unchanged.

5 Comments

  • At 2014.09.11 12:17, Ti said:

    Reading your review reminded me of The Blue Notebook. You know me, I can read a lot of dark stuff but reading about rape and violence against women or children is not something I can stomach AT ALL. I mean, I read it, but doing so makes me physically ill. I get from your review that this book is like this too, right?

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    • At 2014.09.11 15:14, Jennifer said:

      Ti, it is that kind of book. If someone told me this book made them physically ill I would completely understand. It is shattering.

    • At 2014.09.11 21:02, Lu said:

      I read this in print and I can’t imagine listening to it on audio. This book was difficult to read, but I was ultimately so so glad I did.

      • At 2014.09.14 21:23, Leah @ Books Speak Volumes said:

        This book is so incredible. Given it’s brutal, difficult nature, it’s hard to call it a favorite or a book I loved, but it’s certainly one of the best, most powerful books I’ve read. I can’t imagine listening to it on audiobook; hearing those words spoken aloud must have been so shattering. Great review 🙂

        • At 2014.09.16 14:59, tanya (52 books or bust) said:

          I can’t imagine listening to this book as an audio. I had enough problems just reading it, but to hear it too? Such a difficult and troubling book, but you’re right, it is also rewarding if you can get to the end. It was just so real.

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