Friday, February 26, 2016

Tell a story? Danticat tells marvelous stories

Edwidge Danticat is a writer whose name has floated in and out of my consciousness as someone I ought to know, and with Krik?Krak! I now have. And realized why I've heard of her. Mainly because she's a terrific writer.

Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1969. Before she was five her parents had immigrated to New York, leaving Edwidge to be raised by an aunt and uncle. She spoke Haitian Creole at home, French in school, and when she was 12 years old she joined her parents in Brooklyn.

She began writing when she was 9 years old, published a story in a New York City magazine written by teenagers when she was 14. She wrote another story for the magazine, "A New World Full of Strangers" based on her immigration experience. She later said, "When I was done with the [immigration] piece, I felt that my story was unfinished, so I wrote a short story, which later became a book, my first novel: Breath, Eyes, Memory" published in 1994.

She published Krik? Krak!, her second book, in 1996. A collection of stories that was a National Book Award finalist, the title means, "Tell me a story? I'll tell you a story!" Seven
of the nine stories are set in Haiti, and in spare language and telling details Danticat reveals place, character, and situation. Soldiers burst into a house. "The soldiers held a gun to Lionel's head and ordered him to lie down and become intimate with his mother. Lionel refused. Their mother told him to go ahead and obey the soldiers because she was afraid that they would kill Lionel on the spot if he put up more of a fight. Lionel did as his mother told him, crying as the soldiers laughed at him, pressing the gun barrels farther and farther into his neck." Afterward the soldiers raped Lionel's sister and arrested him and accused him of moral crimes.

Powerful stuff, but a view into the heart of darkness. Or at least into a whole other world: "In Haiti when you get hit by a car, the owner of the car gets out and kicks you for getting blood on his bumper." And one more example chosen at random: "She nearly didn't marry him because it was said that people with angular hairline often have very troubled lives."

Anyone who is interested in writing will find Krik? Krak! filled with interesting characters, situations, and ideas. Here for example is the meditation of a young girl who has been posing for a painter—but the thoughts apply equally to writers: " . . . this was 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 had and no one else would after her . . . ." 

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