Edwidge Danticat | Critical Review by Kimberly Hébert

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Edwidge Danticat.
This section contains 1,011 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Kimberly Hébert

SOURCE: "A Testament to Survival," in Quarterly Black Review, June, 1995, p. 6.

In the following review, Hébert applauds Krik? Krak! for its stories about Haitians and their lives in Haiti, but notes that Danticat never fully examines the complicated relationship between Haitian-Americans and America.

And over the years when you have needed us, you have always cried "Krik?" and we have answered "Krak!" and it has shown us that you have not forgotten us.

Edwidge Danticat's powerful collection of short stories, Krik? Krak! is a complicated, yet connected, chorus of Haitian voices affirming survival. Each one explores how memories of Haiti are passed on from one generation to the next—how Haiti will live on in the children of exiles in the United States, in the children of those who survived.

We know people by their stories.

Born in 1969 during the dictatorial regime of Papa Doc Duvalier, Danticat, author of the novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, was 4 years old when her parents emigrated to the United States and left her behind. She would not be able to join them until she was 12. The stories she tells—filled with such horrible details of rape, incest, extreme poverty, violent death—make you wonder what happened during those eight years of her development. But the awful-ness of the pain and the tragedy of Haitian poverty are not all Danticat has to tell. She weaves a rich web of remembered rituals and dream fragments that connects the first story to the last. As the stories progress from one to the next, we realize that Danticat is tracing a family lineage, a history of people related by circumstance.

They say behind the mountain are more mountains. Now I know it's true.

"Children of the Sea" is the first and most powerful story in the collection. A 20-year-old radio show host is hunted down by the military because he has spoken against its overthrow of the government. He (we never know his name) escapes the island, along with 36 others who are also fleeing political persecution and certain death, leaving behind the young woman he wants to marry. The story is told through their "letters": hers, from the midst of turmoil and violence in Haiti's cities and countryside; his from a makeshift raft in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. The cruel irony is that, of course, neither knows if the other is still alive. In the midst of such tragedy, the tale that sustains the young exile adrift at sea is of "the children of the deep blue sea, those who have escaped the chains of slavery to form a world beneath the heavens and the blood-drenched earth where you live."

Life is never lost, another one always comes up to replace the last.

In "Nineteen Thirty-Seven," Danticat takes us inside the walls of a Haitian prison. Images of shaven heads, torture and the burning of bodies are reminiscent of the Jewish holocaust. Told from the viewpoint of a daughter whose mother, a suspected witch, is imprisoned to keep her from "flying," we learn of ritual passed down from mother to daughter to protect them from the horrors of the present, the future, and most of all the past. Stories about the women's power became accusations of infanticide: "They were said to have been seen at night rising from the ground like birds on fire…. Lougarou, witch, criminal!" Danticat's stories often examine this fear of the female principle and its power of passing on stories, and consequently, culture.

What kind of legends will your daughters be told? What kind of charms will you give them to ward off evil?

Like the maternal power she invokes, Danticat's Haiti has a power to destroy and to create. Its people are caught between a place they want to be and the place they have to be. In her other stories set in Haiti, there are suicides, prostitution, miscarriages, murders. The sun shines while the people suffer. Her characters are individuals, not the indistinguishable masses of suffering Haitians featured in the Western media. Through her lens we hear the screaming, we see the blood, we smell the burning of human flesh. Danticat tells these stories as an act of recovery, to prevent the dis-membering of the Haitian spirit for those who would have to leave Haiti and cross over to another side—the United States.

The last two stories in Krik? Krak! tell of Haitians who have made Brooklyn, New York, their home. In "New York Day Women," a young woman who works for a Madison Avenue advertising agency spots her mother on Fifth Avenue during her lunch break and observes her on her way to take care of rich white folks' children. "Caroline's Wedding" represents the last "crossing over": The American-born daughter of Haitian refugees chooses to marry someone who is not Haitian.

You have lived this long in this strange world, so far from home, because you remember.

Danticat's stories strongly reflect her desire to re-member and re-tell stories that have kept her Haitian spirit alive in the disjointed American landscape. She chronicles a people's spiritual resistance to oppression without exploring in any depth America's complicated and contradictory connection to it. Unlike her representations of Haitians under military rule and their conflicting desires to both stay and flee, Danticat's Haitian-American characters—those like herself who have been educated in the United States, who either have very remote memories of Haiti or none at all—have uncomplicated relationships to their "American" identity. Are there no "stories" to tell of America's reluctance to allow Haitians to enter Miami during the "AIDS scare"? Are there no "stories" of America leaving thousands of Haitians to drown in the Caribbean sea rather than give them political asylum? Are there no "stories" of the horror of America's earlier brutal occupation? These and other "stories" would surely problematize a second-generation Haitian-American's "American"-ness.

The stories that Edwidge Danticat has chosen to tell are deeply spiritual and ultimately disturbing. They are a powerful synthesis of the old with the new; the past with the present; a looking backward to go forward; a loud and powerful Krak! to her ancestors' spirit-giving Krik?

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This section contains 1,011 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Kimberly Hébert
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