IN AN engrossing memoir Cholet Josué describes being born in the Bahamas to immigrant workers from Haiti. There he spends his first four years suspended between competing cultures, cocooned by the archipelago’s expatriate Haitian community and unaware that he’s resented by the English-speaking native population.
When an almost-fatal incident prompts his parents to return with their offspring to Haiti, Josué meets his extended family for the first time: aunts, uncles and cousins who together assume responsibility for helping to raise the five Josué siblings. His summers are spent in the country; for the remainder of the year Josué lives with his mother and brothers in Saint-Louis-du-Nord while his father works their farmland.
His priorities are simple: playing soccer (often with a large unripe orange rather than an expensive and puncture-prone plastic ball), studying, telling stories by lamplight and feasting on simple, robust Haitian cuisine prepared in kitchens whose doors are always open to neighbours.
The death of his father, followed by his widowed mother’s move back to the Bahamas as she struggles to support her children, leaves Josué a virtual orphan at the age of eight but living happily in a huge household of warm, welcoming maternal relatives.
His life takes another unpredictable turn when as a 16-year-old he is given directions for embarking on a small fishing boat to be smuggled via a stomach-churning ocean voyage to Miami, North America’s human melting pot.
Finally reunited with his mother, who has made her own way to the US, Josué focuses his body and mind on using his athletic skills to secure a college scholarship. It is only when he is accepted, however, that the implications of his status as an undocumented illegal arrival truly hit, forcing this determined young man to re-evaluate his identity in his adopted country as he strives to establish a legitimate future for himself.