Monday, November 30, 1998

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

I want to talk to you this morning about a young writer from Haiti. She is a wonderful writer who has already written at least one great book, but she is not for the feint of heart. Her books are sad right to the very core, and I/you/we ought not read them when our daily grip is too tenuous. I remember recommending the stories (or should I say articulate paintings) in Krick? Krack! to my partner; I warned her that they were very sad, very hard to take because they were so well written, because the experience of ruthlessly oppressed people is so bleak, so ineffable. Still, I wanted her to read them, convinced that these stories were the most important writing I had read in an entire summer of rich, daily reading. Given that recommendation, she decided to read them, but I could see in the first minutes, the first hours, the doubt on her face. “Why have you asked me to read this? Why must I see these scenes? Why must I be reminded of the particular ways men use women when they are able to control them for ‘political’ reasons?” She, too, by the end realized that these are stories that must be read.

Let me read you just the forward to these chilling stories, and then talk about them a bit more.
Krick? Krack! Somewhere by the seacoast I feel the breath of warm sea air and hear the laughter of children.

An old granny smokes her pipe,

surrounded by village children ....

‘We tell the stories so that the young ones

will know what came before them.

They ask Krick? we say Krack!

Our stories are kept in our hearts’.
What comes out in this series of brutal sketches is not merely the ruthless oppression by foreigners, by economic colonizers. Danticat forces us to see how such oppression corrupts and brutalizes the oppressed so that the Haitian thugs, called police, are if anything worse than the white men who made it possible for them to come to power. No wonder so many thousands of Haitians took to the sea in rickety, unseaworthy craft, perished within minutes or hours off the coast of Haiti—the choice being more how they suffered and died than between servitude and freedom. Most of these stories take place in Haiti, though a few describe how immigrant Haitians live in New York, memories and eyes cast back to Haiti.

I find it almost impossible to talk about these stories. Instead, I will read one section from the epilogue, “Women Like Us,” and hope that you will hear enough of the voice, enough of the passion and the poetry, to pick up the book. And if you read these sketches, you may also want to read Danticat’s fine first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory. The novel is a bit less sad though the voice of the writer is unmistakable.

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