Many of us Caribbean women with a literary bent, remember when “Krik? Krak” was released 20 years ago.
I sat in a packed Wellesly college auditorium in 1995, all of us buzzing because Danticat was there and she was going read from her upcoming release.
We sat, some of us moved to tears by her words, our hearts soaring because she was telling our stories, and so beautifully, so meaningfully.
Her reading and meeting her afterwards with all the other gushing, fawning literary groupies, remains one of my life’s most proud and cherished moments. I still marvel at the brief moment we shared together, where she encouraged me to write and thanked me for reading. So humble, so brilliant!
Soho Press has released a 20th anniversary edition of Edwidge Danticat’s “Krik? Krak!” and it now includes a new story, “In the Old Days.”
Danticat’s writing is lyrical without being verbose, elegant and fluid, and the short stories in Krik? Krak resonated and still move me to tears whenever I read them. Very often it feels like she has crawled inside the Caribbean psyche, especially that of Caribbean women, and sits there scribbling love notes, secrets and sign posts and floating them to us like messages in a bottle.
Arriving one year after the Haitian-American’s first novel (Breath, Eyes, Memory) alerted critics to her compelling voice, these 10 stories, some of which have appeared in small literary journals, confirm Danticat’s reputation as a remarkably gifted writer.
Examining the lives of ordinary Haitians, particularly those struggling to survive under the brutal Duvalier regime, Danticat illuminates the distance between people’s desires and the stifling reality of their lives. A profound mix of Catholicism and voodoo spirituality informs the tales, bestowing a mythic importance on people described in the opening story, “Children of the Sea,” as those “in this world whose names don’t matter to anyone but themselves.” The ceaseless grip of dictatorship often leads men to emotionally abandon their families, like the husband in “A Wall of Fire Rising,” who dreams of escaping in a neighbor’s hot-air balloon. The women exhibit more resilience, largely because of their insistence on finding meaning and solidarity through storytelling; but Danticat portrays these bonds with an honesty that shows that sisterhood, too, has its power plays. In the book’s final piece, “Epilogue: Women Like Us,” she writes: “Are there women who both cook and write? Kitchen poets, they call them. They slip phrases into their stew and wrap meaning around their pork before frying it. They make narrative dumplings and stuff their daughter’s mouths so they say nothing more.”
These stories inform and enrich one another, as the female characters reveal a common ancestry and ties to the fictional Ville Rose. In addition to the power of Danticat’s themes, the book is enhanced by an element of suspense—we’re never certain, for example, if a rickety boat packed with refugees introduced in the first tale will reach the Florida coast. Spare, elegant and moving, these stories cohere into a superb collection.