“This was a fascinating, unexpected memoir. From the subtitle -- A Healer's Journey From Surgeon to Shaman -- I anticipated a kind of anthropological study of Haitian spirituality including Voodoo, and Dr. Jean-Murat's decision to embrace her family's faith practices. This memoir has all that, and more: it is a look at a woman and a country in turmoil and transition.
Born in Haiti in the 1950s, Jean-Murat lived through some of her country's most violent times: the dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier, followed by his son "Baby Doc". Jean-Murat's family was divided between the educated elite of Haiti -- her father's side of the family -- and the practitioners of the then-illegal Voodoo tradition -- her mother's side of the family. Growing up, Jean-Murat was embarrassed by her maternal relatives, as much as she loved them, and she gave up numerous opportunities out of fear of having to reveal her Voodoo connections. However, repeated experiences with Voodoo ceremonies resonated with her and always called to her, and as she trained to be a doctor, she found herself turning more and more to her family's faith to help her in her work and personal life.
In her Foreword, Jena-Murat makes it clear that Voodoo is not some kind of black magic, and her book explains the rituals, beliefs, and spiritual grounding of the Voodoo tradition in Haiti. (In 2003, Voodoo was recognized as an official religion in Haiti, and her family's Voodoo temple became a national heritage site.) I so enjoyed this glimpse into a faith tradition that I know little about, and I loved reading Jean-Murat's journey to incorporate her faith into her medical practice (especially as her spiritual beliefs don't limit a woman's reproductive choices!).
At about 345ish pages, Jean-Murat covers a great deal skillfully, and while at times I thought the narrative could have used a leeeetle tightening, I was always engrossed and interested in what she had to say. Her writing is straight-forward and clear, a mix of her own emotional introspection and constructed dialogue that made the book read quickly. It's obvious Jean-Murat loves Haiti and her family, and she invites the reader to find love in this place and her people as well -- as maddening as her family may be at times! -- and I enjoyed this look at a world unfamiliar to me.
Jean-Murat's medical focus -- and vocation -- is healing those who've experienced sexual assault, and a great deal of this book discusses openly that trauma. Those who are easily triggered should be warned, but as with everything in her story, Jean-Murat handles those moments carefully and honestly. It was painful to read, but I appreciated their inclusion, and her honest discussion of this epidemic.
My only wish was for a glossary, as Jean-Murat peppers her narrative with Haitian Kreyòl phrases; while she defined them at the time, I often forgot later what they meant and had to guess from context. Otherwise, I have no gripes: this was an engrossing and fascinating read, an armchair escape and a spiritual education.”