Krik? Krak!

img_2994I’d never heard the words Kirk? Krak! and wondered what they meant when I picked this book up.  Reading the back cover, I learned that storytellers say Krik? and listeners say Krak! in Haiti.  Krik? Krak! is a poetic collection of connected short stories that explores the Haitian community in the United States and in Haiti.  The tradition of storytelling is a way of passing down moeurs and is an important part of Haitian culture.  This is specifically treated in this collection – passing culture from mother to daughter.

Krik? Krak! opens with a short story of Haitian refugees that are attempting to escape the political strife and horrors of their country and are floating out to sea desperately trying to reach Miami, while shedding their personal items along the way and in some cases their lives.  Each story is told from the poignant point of view of Haitians however surprising these stories have a strong sense of universality about them as well.  Everyone has a sense of home, a sense of family, of culture, and a desire for a good life.  Danticat does a brilliant job of integrating the recurring themes of water, suffering, and hope.  Water is often portrayed as a barrier.  The barrier that surrounds the island of Haiti and separates it from the Dominican Republic.  Just as the ocean must be crossed to attain a hopeful life in the United States, water is the notion of escape along with the reminder of all the Haitians that didn’t/don’t make it.

It’s very hard to read these stories and not think about the refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria and immigrating to Europe.  Leaving one’s country and having to find the balance between acceptance into a new country and preserving the culture that was left behind.  Danticat’s writing is infectious with a dynamism of superstition and it enlightens the reader to Haitian history.  I strongly recommend reading this short story collection to learn more about Haiti and its people but mostly to experience the passionate manner in which Danticat evokes the honesty, courage, sensitivity, and authenticity of their stories.

Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American writer born in Port-au-Prince in 1969.  She was raised in Haiti by her aunt and uncle.  She finally joined her parens, who had left for the United States earlier, at the age of 12 in Brooklyn.  Danticat began writing at the age of 9 years old.  Her move to Brooklyn was difficult so she turned to literature for comfort.  Her first published writing in English was A Haitian-American Christmas: Cremace and Creole Theatre.   Some of the major themes that are dealt with in her writings are mother-daughter relationships, national identity, and Haitian diaspora.

She has been decorated with  countless literary awards and honorary degrees.  Having earned a Masters of Fine Arts from Brown University, Danticat has gone on to write many well-known titled books such as The Farming of the Bones, The Dew Breaker, and her latest novel Claire of the Sea Light.  On a high note, a young director named Easmanie Michel fell in love with Krik? Krak! and is working diligently to bring Edwidge Danticat’s short story Caroline’s Wedding to the big screen.  She believes that Danticat’s work will translate well on-screen and she has been entrusted to make it happen.  If you’re interested in keeping up with the new developments on this film project head over and check out Easmanie Michel’s Facebook page Caroline’s Wedding.

 

My Copy:  Krik? Krak!, paperback 224 pages

Rating: *****

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Ayiti

 

imageHaving read but one short collection this entire year, I’m ending 2014 with a really good one. I was gifted this signed copy by a friend and I am so grateful. Ayiti is Roxane Gay’s debut novel of short stories. It confronts the reader with Haiti, the good and the bad. It consists of fifteen short stories all carrying different themes about Haiti and the  Haitian diaspora.

All the stories have a flavor of island living that is hard to ignore. The first four stories recount fitting in in the United States as an immigrant, being different because one has an accent, and people’s reactions to those differences. The other stories relate Haitians’ desires to leave their country for a better life in the United States. Gay depicts the difficulty from both sides – the Haitian that emigrates and the Haitian that stays back home, very well. Each story details aspects that we the reader may not be prepared to read. We are confronted with the dark side of life in Haiti and immigrant life in the United States.  At times, her stories take on an erotic tone, but it isn’t at all gratuitous.

Kidnapping and prostitution are two of the darkest subjects in this collection. The fifth story Things I Know About Fairy Tales speaks specifically about being kidnapped. It is the short story that became An Untamed State. I haven’t read it yet but even as a short story it was dark, menacing, and heightened the senses.  I’m curious to see how this short story develops into An Untamed State.

Haiti is a country that seems to get under its citizens’ skin and is difficult to leave. The idea of leaving for good seems to be impossible for some and a necessity for others. Haiti’s breezy beaches, gritty cities, simple lifestyle yet fearful, dangerous, and imminent violence are haunting. Ayiti is definitely a short story collection worth checking out. It gives an excellent view of Roxane Gay’s poignant and refreshing writing style. I just love the way she adds pop culture references into her storytelling. It helps the reader understand even better what she’s trying to say and gives particular life to her short stories.