Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Haiti: "Krik? Krak!" by Edwidge Danticat

My friend Miriam suggested this author, and when I searched for a title, I learned Ms. Danticat attended the college where my Daughter B is now a student. Do I get extra points for that?

Danticat lived in Haiti until she was 12 and then moved to New York City. Krik? Krak! is a story-telling motif in Haiti...someone calling for a story says, "Krik?" and the response is "Krak!"  This collection of short stories evokes life in Haiti, some of its beauty and some of the gut-wrenching pain. 

Written in the early 1990s, the title story reveals the human consequences of horrific political repression. In the story, a college student who agitates for political change on the radio escapes Haiti on a leaky boat, with 35 others. He writes "letters" in a notebook to his sweetheart back home. He hopes the boat will reach the U.S., or at least a U.S. Coast Guard ship. A girl in Port-au-Prince writes to her lover, whom she hopes escaped...but she just isn't sure. Still she writes, even as her family is menaced by the Tonton Macoutes, the dictator's personal "enforcers."

I put "letters" in quotations because, while each writes to the other, there is no exchange. We see both sides of this epistolary story, made even more compelling by the two distinct voices Ms. Danticat animates in her prose. The student writes of the pregnant woman, who gives birth on the boat; of the old man chewing on an empty pipe; of the tar used to patch the leaks; and of how hot he is and black he is becoming under the relentless sun. He also writes of his political views, how much he cares for the girl, and what he hopes to find in the U.S. The girl (and she is young, so the word is correct) writes of the day the Macoutes murdered her neighbor, how her family escaped, and what her father did to save the them and why. She also writes of the banyan tree where she finds a hiding place, what the house in the country looks like, and the butterflies that bring her messages of hope and despair.

Unlike Masks, in which two central characters obtain their deepest desire, neither one in this story does. The hardest part to read was how each accepted fate when it arrived.


  1. Please check out the film adaptation of "Caroline's Wedding" based on the short story in "Krik?Krak!"