Danticat, Edwidge (Vol. 94)
Edwidge Danticat 1969–
Haitian-born American novelist and short story writer.
Winner of a Pushcart Short Story Prize and a finalist for a National Book Award in 1995, Danticat has received positive critical attention for her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), and her short story collection Krik? Krak! (1995).
Born in Haiti, Danticat was separated from her parents at the age of four when they emigrated to the United States. In 1981 she joined her family in Brooklyn, New York. Recognized for her depictions of the Haitian experience both in Haiti and the United States, Danticat has been described by Margaria Fichtner as a writer whose work "has much to say about what it is like to be young, black, Haitian and female wandering in a world too often eager to regard all of those conditions as less than worthwhile."
Breath, Eyes, Memory, told through the eyes of Sophie Caco, details the lives of four generations of Haitian women as they struggle against poverty, violence, and prejudice in Haiti and the United States. Encompassing contemporary Haitian history, the novel portrays the country's recent upheavals at the hands of the Duvalier regime and its brutal secret police, the Tonton Macoutes. While the stories in Krik? Krak!—the title refers to a Haitian storytelling game in which one person's story is exchanged for another—employ a wide range of plot types and characters, each story is, as Ellen Kanner has explained, "part of the same tale. Women lose who and what they love to poverty, to violence, to politics, to ideals."
Most commentators have found Danticat's works to be powerful fictions conveyed with sure-handed style. Breath, Eyes, Memory has been praised by many critics for its lyric language, which off-sets and counterpoints the novel's at times dire subject matter. Some reviewers of the novel suggested that Danticat did not display complete control of her material in this book, lavishing detailed descriptive passages on things and events that did not warrant them. But most point out that this is a flaw common to many first novels. Critics have lauded Krik? Krak! for the diversity of narrative voices and literary styles presented in the stories. Danticat is again praised for making potentially downbeat material readable and enjoyable through her skillful, lyrical use of language. Critics have noted that some of the stories reveal a too self-conscious manipulation of form and structure, a false note of "preciousness" that detracts from their realism. Most critics agree with Richard Eder, however, that the "best of [the stories], using the island tradition of a semi-magical folktale, or the witty, between-two-worlds voices of modern urban immigrants, are pure beguiling transformation."
SOURCE: "Living, Seeing, Remembering," in Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, Vol. 10, No. 1, Fall, 1994, pp. 36, 38.
[In the following positive review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, Mackay praises Danticat for her "extraordinary optimism," "vivid characterization," and "allusive language."]
Edwidge Danticat dedicates her powerful first novel [Breath, Eyes, Memory] to "The brave women of Haiti … on this shore and other shores. We have stumbled but we will not fall." Such optimism is extraordinary, given the everyday adversity faced by the women whose stories are interwoven with that of Sophie, the narrator.
Grandmother Ifé, mother Martine, aunt Atie, and daughter Sophie (and later Sophie's daughter, Brigitte) are rooted as firmly in their native Haitian soil as they are bound to one another, despite the ocean, experiences, and years that separate them. The ties to Haiti, the women's certainty of meeting there at the "very end of each of our journeys," affords their only apparent security. "Somehow, early on, our song makers and tale weavers had decided that we were all daughters of this land," Danticat writes. Structurally, the book reflects the centrality of Haiti: the longest of its four sections takes place there, although covering only a few days in a novel that covers years.
The story begins in Haiti. Through Sophie's 12-year-old eyes, the...
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SOURCE: "Haitian Tales, Flatbush Scenes," in The New York Times, January 26, 1995, pp. C1, C8.
[In the following essay, based on discussions with Danticat, Pierre-Pierre examines her past in Haiti and her present life as a Haitian-American living in Brooklyn.]
It was the kind of dark, cold New York winter day that sundrenched people from the Caribbean dread. But Edwidge Danticat, a 25-year-old Haitian-American novelist who immigrated to Brooklyn a little more than a dozen years ago, would not let it dampen her spirits.
"You want some coffee, tea?" she said in a soft melodic voice, as if the liquids would warm the day. "The tea is cannelle."
So Ms. Danticat (her name is pronounced ed-WEEDJ dahn-tee-CAH), the author of Breath, Eyes, Memory, her first novel, which was published by Soho Press last spring and received respectful reviews, set small flowered, ceramic cups on a coffee table. She settled into a plastic-covered velour chair in the beige-carpeted living room of her parents' attached brick home in East Flatbush and explained that the cannelles, or cinnamon sticks, had been bought just blocks away, from Haitian street vendors.
"It's wonderful," she said, pouring the steamy light brown liquid into the cup. "It's like 'infusion' tea. Haitians think of tea as a cure-all."
While much is written about the troubled, mountainous...
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SOURCE: "A Haitian Fantasy and Exile," in Newsday, March 30, 1995, pp. B2, B25.
[In the following favorable review of Krik? Krak!, Eder describes some of Danticat's stories as "pure beguiling transformation."]
"Beyond the mountains there are mountains" goes one of the Haitian proverbs that work their tutelary spirit through Edwidge Danticat's stories. The Creole sayings of that misfortunate island keep it in one particular sense from being utterly bereft. For Haitians to hurl those six laconic words at the harshness that forbids them passage is to acknowledge it and lift it at the same time. Haiti's proverbs, like Chekhov's plays, light up what rises when men and women are borne down.
So do the best of these pieces by a young and beautifully voiced Haitian-American writer. When Guy falls to his death from the balloon he has stolen, or Celiane jumps after the dead baby she has hurled from the raft in which she is fleeing Haiti, or an old immigrant woman turns to laugh and be reconciled with her bitter past, Danticat's words go the opposite way from the terrible things she writes so truly about.
Can words redeem starvation? If they could anywhere it would be in Haiti, one of whose greatest proverbs mocks hunger with a sudden expulsion of the breath: "If you cannot eat from a plate of soup you can always spit in it."
Of the stories in Krik?...
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SOURCE: A review of Krik? Krak! in Book World-The Washington Post, May 14, 1995, p. 4.
[In the following review of Krik? Krak!, Omang observes that "Danticat seems to be overflowing with the strength and insight of generations of Haitian women."]
In Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat, modern Haiti may have found its voice. "When you write," she says in an epilogue, "it's like braiding your hair," and into these nine short stories she has woven the sad with the funny, the unspeakable with the glorious, the wild horror and deep love that is Haiti today.
Only 26, Danticat seems to be overflowing with the strength and insight of generations of Haitian women. In the past under Papa Doc, in New York now and on the leaky rafts in between, she speaks through the dead and through the living and the walking wounded alike, her tone changing without apparent effort to be as various as the need.
"Children of the Sea" is virtually flawless, a heartbreaking exchange of letters never sent, never received, between a young woman and her lover as his leaky boat full of people drifts toward Miami. All the island's troubles are braided seamlessly into these letters.
Trying not to think about their prospects, the refugees tell stories: "Someone says, Krik? You answer, Krak! And they say, I have many stories I could tell you, and then they go on and tell these...
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SOURCE: "Haitian Dream, Brooklyn Memory," in Newsday, May 21, 1995, p. A52.
[In the following essay, Moses provides an overview of Danticat's life and career.]
Novelist Edwidge Danticat remembers that when she went to junior high school in Crown Heights, it was hard to be proud of being Haitian.
The newcomers took separate classes taught in Creole. When they gathered with other students, they were met with taunts that Haitians had AIDS. "There were a lot of fights with blood, because when teased, the students would react," Danticat remembers.
But childhood memories have served Danticat well, helping to inspire her in writing two books that have won her national attention at the age of 26. Her work has brought the Haitian immigrant experience to the American literary world and introduced a new chapter in the literature of Brooklyn.
In an interview last month in the living room of her East Flatbush home, she was serene but full of anticipation. She sat straight up in an easy chair and said she looked forward to a national book tour.
Her 1994 novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, had just been issued by Vintage Books in paperback; a collection of short stories, Krik? Krak!, was released that day by Soho Press.
"It's hard to imagine it all started last year," she said as she described her plans to travel to...
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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...
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SOURCE: "Danticat's Stories Pulse with Haitian Heartbeat," in The Boston Globe, July 19, 1995, p. 70.
[In the following review, Hart commends Danticat for providing "honest and loving portraits of Haitian people, both on the island and in the United States."]
More than anything else, the storytelling of the young Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat has given the world honest and loving portraits of Haitian people, both on the island and in the United States. She has smashed the numbing stereotypes created by a barrage of media accounts of Haitian poverty, misery and death.
Danticat's debut novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, garnered international acclaim last year. In her new book, a collection of nine short stories called Krik? Krak!, she draws on her experience growing up in dictatorial Haiti as well as stories of Creole culture and myth.
Danticat, 26, a teller of stories in the truest sense, takes us heart-pounding into a breathtaking Haiti, whose culture and people are so often diminished, even disfigured, in the writings of those who do not know and love the island.
Of course, Danticat cannot avoid placing her tales within the brutal world of the tonton macoutes, Haiti's former thuggish soldiers, and the oppressive political system that until recently pushed tens of thousands of Haitians to flee the island by vessel—often...
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SOURCE: An interview in Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, Vol. 10, No. 3, Summer, 1995, pp. 12-15.
[In the following interview, Danticat discusses the stories included in Krik? Krak!]
This epigraph sets the stage and tone for the nine stories of the heart by Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat in her recent collection entitled Krik? Krak! In these tales of the politics and people of Haiti, past and present, on their island home and in newly formed immigrant communities, she lures us not simply to read but to participate in the tradition of Krik? Krak! that she remembers from childhood:
"Krik? Krak! is call-response but also it's this feeling that you're not merely an observer—you're part of the story. Someone says, 'Krik?' and as loud as you can you say, 'Krak!' You urge the person to tell the story by your enthusiasm to hear it."
So compelling are these stories, filled with the myth and poetry of Haiti, that as one ends, it is hard not to call out a resounding, "Krak!" to keep the momentum of Danticat's storytelling going.
Taken individually, several stories are stunning in the power of both the tale and language. "Children of the Sea" is told as a dialogue between two young lovers—one on a boat bound for Miami, the other reporting from Haiti on the horrors wrought by the TonTon Macoutes. The young man reports the desperate life of...
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