Summary T HE GIFT OF MISFORTUNE CHRONICLES THE STORY OF A YOUNG HAITIAN IMMIGRANT TORN BETWEEN HIS NATIVE LAND, WHICH HE LOVES UNCONDITIONALLY, AND AN ADOPTED COUNTRY THAT HE FALLS IN LOVE WITH AT FIRST SIGHT. However, once he reluctantly arrives in his new country, in spite of himself, he loves it, but three major obstacles surface that alter his attitudes and eventually his life: his natural kinship with the Christian notion of poverty and wealth; his encounter with his adopted father/friend, Thomas, who is very critical of America; and the most important, the obstacle that makes him change his attitude about American culture and democracy�his malevolent and greedy wife, Monica. Politics, religion, fear, deception, greed, courage, and revelation all come to play in the journey of Armand, who brings a willing sister to the United States while his heart and soul is still in Haiti. During Haiti�s most turbulent recent times, Armand and sister, Deborah, become concerned about the chaos that is claiming the streets of Port-au-Prince. The fear, violence, murder, and hopelessness were affecting not only the poor and desperate but the wealthy and desperate as well. Deborah wants to go, and so one morning, she wakes up in her comfortable house. After hearing another story of one of her friends put to death because they will not join the military of Baby Doc (Jean-Claude Duvalier), she wants to go out of Haiti as both patriot and citizen. Deborah cannot go anywhere without her brother, Armand, and though he too is frightened, he feels that he can�t leave Haiti. They are not involved in politics, but are religious: Armand, fundamentalist Protestant; and Deborah, traditional Catholic. They are still thrust into the politics of the country. They attend the finest school in Haiti, and they attend this school with the country�s elite who are pro-Duvalier. With warring factions, violence spurting all around them, certain friends disappearing overnight, never to return, and some friends demanding them to choose between their neutral political life, and the need for them to get involved in the Duvalier government, and concerns for Deborah�s freedom since an important Duvalier official might want Deborah for his son, they hatch a plan to escape to the United States of America. In the beginning, it is Deborah, and not Armand, who wanted to abandon Haiti, but Armand has to go to protect his sister and make sure she got there safely. After making a careful trip to Bainet to get money from their very wealthy parents, they leave for the United States of America. Armand leaves with a heavy heart because, unlike Deborah, he wanted to stay in Haiti to do religious work, which would end up looking like political work since Armand has a close connection and passion for the poor. But because of family and tradition, Deborah becomes the major priority. Armand starts a whole new journey when he gets on that plane to the United States and lands in New York City, where his relatives and friends are awaiting him and Deborah. In New York City, he is immediately thrown into a quandary. Though he misses Haiti, he excitingly falls in love with the United States and New York City. On his beginning U.S. journey, he is introduced to the two most important people in his life and the two most important characters in the novel. Also, he is introduced to two of the most important persons he met in his life in the United States: Thomas, a radical Christian socialist who constantly places the United States into the glaring light of expectation and reality and compels Armand to go beyond his strict religious beliefs to uncover deeper truth about a society that worships the material greed; and the other person is Monica, a young woman of questionable reputation, but has sterling charm, a charm that, in spite of all of the warning of Armand�s family and church friends, got Armand to marry her. The novel unfolds with these two polar, opposite characters. Each affect the young Armand in different ways but unite him on rethinking his enthusiasm and his love for America. Both characters, Thomas and Monica, force Armand to look at his life more deeply and make him fight for what he believes in more firmly. The struggle to find his voice surfaces when he has to stand his ground with Thomas and come up with his own vision of the United States to compete with Thomas, which is one of the keys of understanding the novel. But the real battle turns out to be a personal one, and it is that personal one that ultimately turns him against America and sends him back to Haiti. The reader, however, is not told definitively whether he stayed in Haiti or not. The disastrous marriage between Armand and Monica sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Armand comes to America surrounded by friends and family and ends up with a woman that nobody likes or trusts, but he ends up with her anyway. Religious, political, and most importantly, personal fireworks happen and do not stop until the novel�s end. Monica is brought forth as a worthy rival to Armand�s religious and fundamental beliefs about God, marriage, love, justice, and humanity; all of his beliefs work their way out in this poisonous and passionate relationship between Armand and Monica. What is central to the novel is that in Haiti, the personal was submerged into the ever-present struggle of the political; but in the United States, Armand discovers another and perhaps even more present struggle�the personal. New York City and United States are seen through the symbolic and personal spheres of what Monica puts him through both privately and as a public figure in court. Though Armand has made the biggest mistake in his life by marrying Monica, his mistake, or tragedy�as many of his friends and family calls the marriage, still teaches him religiously (that he must remain strong in his faith), politically (that the private can become very public), and personally (that his wife has betrayed him and tried to strip him of his dignity, money, and most importantly, his children). In the end, Armand�s gift was a misfortunate one because what he thought he wanted out of life and out of the United States, he realized was not spiritually deep enough, thought, or lived. Everyday lives were caught in the machinery of the different systems; in the case of Armand, marriage and the court system, and he saw the misery and unhappiness in America. Though he had come to United States to pursue the American dream, it became a kind of nightmare for him. He had to totally rethink what he believed were the most important things in life. His wife had betrayed and deserted him. She had lied to him and tried to get him in trouble with the law. The novel helps us to understand the transformation that takes place in Armand�s thoughts and, most importantly, his actions by the chronicles of a horrific and stressful trial that Armand had to go through because of Monica. He prevailed, but to an America that made him think that it was not as free as the myth goes and particularly cautious about America�s treatment of men who become fathers. What is ironic is that his other major influence, Thomas, tried to push on him a religious, political point of view, but Armand got a private, personal view of America that was just as powerful as a critique of the rich or the prison system. He was fighting for child custody, trying to keep a job since the court case is interrupting it all the time, holding on to his faith, and balancing his life when his wife and court have deemed him a wife abuser and demonic. So while Thomas was key in the first part of the novel, in the second part, Monica takes over with an exceptional vehemence. However, Thomas comes back powerfully strong and takes up Armand�s attention because he makes a momentous decision�he is leaving New York City to return to Haiti to fight and struggle with the people. For Armand, this is the end of an era. After Thomas gets to Haiti, Armand and his family and friends in New York find out that Thomas has been killed in Haiti. With heavy hearts, they go to Haiti for the funeral. However, an intrigue starts right before they are ready to leave Haiti. In fact, they don�t even get a chance to attend the funeral. This part of the novel becomes an adventure in trying not to get caught by the secret military police. They hide out in the crowded city of Port-au-Prince and then in the country and finally out of the country. Deborah and Armand look back with the assurance that they are never coming back, but internally, Armand has already decided that he might come back to do two things�to marry his childhood sweetheart, who still is waiting for him and to work with the people as Thomas mandated him to do with his words and life. Armand decides to marry a woman he knew from childhood. But this gets us ahead of ourselves because Armand, Deborah, Phito, her husband, Armand�s New York sisters, are all trapped in Haiti, waiting for an opportunity to escape the military that is after Armand. Thus, the novel ends like it begins, except travel is reversed. Deborah stays in New York. Haiti is a shadow that became so impressive with its evil and violence. When she gets a chance to escape again, she never returns. Armand is an interesting story at the end because the reader knows that he got married again, that he stayed in Haiti when the others were rescued, but the reader is not sure whether he stayed for good or took his new Haitian wife to New York City or the United States to work and live. What we know for sure is that Armand will carry on Thomas�s legacy in some way. Armand will fight for the future and will keep faith in the future because of the experiences of his past with the committed Thomas, the deceptive Monica, passive, good citizens like his sisters, and the fact that he lived in both Haiti and the United States and found great similarities, though he came to know the differences.
Poet, writer, thinker, Joseph P. Policape was born in Haiti and arrived in Nyack, New York in the early 1980s. In the mid 80�s he moved to Massachusetts where his higher education took place with focus on business, Computer Technology, and theology, but the love of writing had always been a permanent love. Policape is the author of three poetry collections, a short story book and a novel. He is an author that cannot be ignored as he captures people�s lives through his multiple disciplinary talents as a writer, poet, minister and counselor.