“Until we moved to the city, we went to the river every year on the first of November. The women would all dress in white. My mother would hold my hand tightly as we walked toward the water. We were all daughters of that river, which had taken our mothers from us. Our mothers were the ashes and we were the light. Our mothers were the embers and we were the sparks. Our mothers were the flames and we were the blaze. We came from the bottom of that river where the blood never stops flowing, where my mother’s dive toward life–her swim among those bodies slaughtered in flight–gave her those wings of flames. The river was the place where it had all begun.”
-from “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” Edwidge Danticat
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This book is the one I chose for my final, big project for Caribbean Women’s Writing. I finished it today, as we have a proposal due soon in preparation for that final project.
The book is beautiful. It’s a collection of nine short stories that take place in Haiti or in America in the lives of Haitian immigrants. Danticat herself is from Port-au-Prince, and on the back of this book (which was published in 1995), the Washington Globe states, “If the news from Haiti is too painful to read, read this book instead and understand the place more deeply than you ever thought possible.” It seems almost prophetic that this quote is from 15 years ago.
The title, Krik? Krak?, comes from the Haitian oral storytelling tradition. The storyteller asks “Krik?” and the audience responds “Krak!” These stories are about a variety of different characters: Haitian sisters living in America, lovers who have been separated when the man sails to America on a raft, a girl who models for a painter and dreams of leaving a legacy, a woman who desires a baby so bad that she “adopts” a dead baby, and many more.
The above quote is from a story about a woman who flees her native Dominican and watches many other women, her own mother included, be slaughtered by soldiers. She swims across a river full of blood and bodies into Haiti and freedom. The story is told from the woman’s daughter’s perspective. The woman has since been imprisoned, both physically and mentally. Her daughter is the one now who must find her own freedom outside of the constrainsts of her mother’s history.
In another story, “Seeing Things Simply,” the main character Princesse models for a painter. Princesse desperately wants to learn to paint so that she, too, can leave a legacy behind. Something about her dreams and desires is so universal. It’s wonderful that Danticat can write a story about a Haitian girl that I, a white American girl, can relate to.
I’m so excited about having chosen this book. I’ll probably read it several more times before the semester is over, as I work on my final project. Have I mentioned that I’m seriously enjoying Caribbean writing? 🙂
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“It struck Princesse that this is why she wanted to make pictures, to have something to leave behind even after she was gone, something that showed what she had observed in a way that no one else would after her. The sky in all its glory had been there for eons even before she came into the world, and there it would stay with its crashing stars and moody clouds. The sand and its caresses, the conch and its melody would be there forever as well. All that would chagne would be the faces of the people who would see and touch those things, faces like hers, which was already not as it had been a few years before and which would mature and chagne in the years to come.”
-from “Seeing Things Simply”