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Danticat, Edwidge

Edwidge Danticat

1969—

Author

Edwidge Danticat is one of only a handful of contemporary novelists of Haitian heritage writing in English. Danticat did not begin learning English until she moved from Haiti to New York City as an adolescent. Her talents in this second language were evident in her award-winning 1994 debut, Breath, Eyes, Memory. In this work, as well as her equally lauded 1995 short story collection, Krik? Krak!, Danticat focuses on the lives and losses of Haitians, both at home—where poverty, political repression, and fear were everyday hindrances for decades—and as transplants to urban America, where Haitians face similar poverty, compounded by racism. "The agonies of Haiti are as wide as they are deep," the Caribbean-focused journal Islands acknowledged. "It would seem impossible, in fact, to write anything about Haiti that wasn't entirely tragic, yet Edwidge Danticat has done it."

Danticat was born in Leogane, a rural area of Haiti just west of Port-au-Prince, in 1969. When she was two years old her father immigrated to New York City to find more promising work. Her mother joined him two years later and left Danticat and a younger brother behind with her father's brother, Joseph Dantica. The future writer was in close contact with extended family members, some of whom were elders who thrived on telling folk tales. Oral traditions assumed a vital role in the education and sense of heritage of young Haitians like Danticat; the country had a marginal literacy rate—one of the lowest in the western hemisphere—and television broadcasts were infrequent because of meager electricity. "My most vivid memories of Haiti involved incidents that represent power failures," Danticat recalled in her publicity biography. "At those times, you can't read, or study, or watch TV, so you sit around a candle and listen to stories from the elders in the house."

Experienced Hardship in Haiti

Spirituality and the rituals of religion also influenced Danticat as a child. Her uncle was a Baptist minister, and she would attend all the funerals of the community with him. For a young girl whose parents had disappeared from her world—and furthermore, a world where people who fell out of favor with dictator François Duvalier and his son, "Baby Doc" Duvalier, also disappeared—death was a lesser dread. Danticat once shared a room with a distant relative, a woman who was more than one hundred years old, and was present when she passed away. "I accepted her death very easily because in Haiti death was always around us," Danticat remarked in her publicity biography.

Life in Haiti was difficult. Poverty and fear infected daily life and blunted simple childhood pleasures. "I have memories of Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier and his wife racing by in their Mercedes Benz and throwing money out of the window to the very poor children in our neighborhood," Danticat recalled in her publicity biography. Another time, a radio announcement alerted children to a Christmas-time toy giveaway at the presidential palace. "My cousins and I went and were nearly trampled in the mob of children who flooded the palace lawns," she remembered.

More problematic for Danticat, however, was her family situation. "The initial question of my life was explaining to myself first my mother's absence and then my father's," Danticat told New York's Rebecca Mead. "When she [Danticat's mother] was leaving, I didn't understand…. I didn't get it at all—and not just the fact that she was absent, but the conditions that drive that and that separate families." Her mother's move to New York City—though ultimately only a temporary loss—was nevertheless a difficult cross for Danticat to bear. Haitian culture gives a special reverence to mothers and to be "san manman"—motherless—is also a synonym for a hoodlum, or someone who knows no boundaries of human decency.

Immigrated to the United States

When Danticat was twelve years old, she and her brother flew to New York City to join her parents and two younger brothers born there. The airport reunion was not completely joyful, however, for Danticat. "I was very, very nervous," Danticat recalled in an interview with Margaria Fichtner writing in the Miami Herald. "I didn't know these people. I felt like I was adopted." Her reunited family lived in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, and Danticat was enrolled in a bilingual education program to help with the transition. Danticat later credited the bilingual program at her intermediate school with giving her the platform to obtain a decent education. "It's very easy to get lost in the public school system because it's so big, and I am very shy," she told Joyce Purnick in the New York Times.

Danticat received an English-language set of author/illustrator Ludwig Bemelman's "Madeleine" books as a gift, and her first foray into literary expression was an attempt to write a version of Madeleine with herself cast in the role of the orphaned, misunderstood title character. In junior high school Danticat was teased by peers because of her accent. "Their name-calling pushed an already shy Danticat deeper into her shell, but also led her to take pen to paper searching for words to convey her feelings," wrote Patrik Henry Bass in B.E.T. Weekend.

Occasionally adolescent tensions would erupt into violence, and Danticat witnessed fights between African Americans and Haitian immigrants. She went on to a high school geared toward teenagers hoping to pursue a career in medicine. Yet the program, in which students actually worked in a hospital after school, ultimately dissuaded Danticat from becoming a nurse.

At a Glance …

Born on January 19, 1969, in Leogane, Haiti; immigrated to the United States, 1981; daughter of André Miracin (a cab driver) and Rose Souvenance (a textile worker) Danticat. Education: Barnard College, BA, 1990; Brown University, MFA, 1993.

Career: Fiction writer and memoirist. Worked as associate producer for Jonathan Demme's documentary Courage and Pain, 1993(?)-94(?).

Awards: Fiction award, Black Caucus of the American Literary Association, 1994, for Breath, Eyes, Memory; Woman of Achievement Award, Barnard College, 1995; Pushcart Prize, 1995; National Book Award nomination, 1995, for Krik? Krak!; named one of Twenty Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine, 1996, for Breath, Eyes, Memory; Lannan Foundation Fellowship, 2004; Story Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist, 2005, for The Dew Breaker; National Book Award finalist, 2007, and National Book Critics Circle Award, 2008, both for Brother, I'm Dying.

Addresses: Agent—c/o Aragi Agency, 143 W. 27th St., Ste. 4-F, New York, NY 10001.

After high school, Danticat moved into a less stressful atmosphere when she enrolled at Barnard College on a scholarship. She majored in French literature and, after receiving her bachelor's degree in 1990, was still considering going on to nursing school. Her parents—a taxi driver and a factory worker—strongly felt that their children should enter into well-paid, respected professions. To them, a career in the arts did not seem a solid, income-providing vocation, but Danticat won a scholarship to Brown University and enrolled in the graduate writing program there.

Published First Work

As an undergraduate, Danticat had begun an essay on herself and her lineage. She sent it to a literary agent, who suggested she expand it a bit more. Danticat turned it into her Brown thesis and eventually sent it back to the literary agency. One week later she was lunching with the agent, and the work became her first book, Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published in 1994.

The novel follows the experiences of Sophie Caco, a young female Haitian immigrant to New York City who is a victim of sexual abuse. The tale also involves Sophie's mother's prior assault by a member of Duvalier's brutal secret police and death squad—the Tontons Macoute—and touches upon Sophie's bonds with her aunt and grandmother. Danticat stressed in interviews that the abuse these women suffered was not autobiographical in nature. In the Miami Herald, Fichtner noted that many "hailed the book's emotional complexity and its resonant portrayal of the burdens history, politics, and culture impose upon the lives and hearts of women." Fichtner also noted that Breath, Eyes, Memory "has much to say about what it is like to be young, black, Haitian, and female wandering in a world too often eager to regard all of those conditions as less than worthwhile."

Danticat's willingness to tackle controversial subject matter earned her comparisons to African-American author Alice Walker, and she even admitted to "borrowing" a character from Warrior Marks, Walker's treatise against female circumcision in lesser developed countries. Danticat explained that she saw the work as a way to give voice to the Haitian community's silenced women: "In our culture, women could not talk about things that bothered them … because there is such a greater repression," Danticat told Kevin L. Carter in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As Danticat was enjoying her first flush of literary success, political events in Haiti brought her homeland into the news, causing reverberations in her own life. The Duvalier regime had spiraled to an end in 1986, and four years later Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide became the nation's first freely elected leader. In 1991 a military coup ousted Aristide, who then fled the country. The international community responded with a trade embargo, which deeply hurt the already impoverished Haitian people, and a United Nations peacekeeping force was deployed to maintain order. Many Haitians began fleeing to Florida on makeshift boats; those intercepted were put into refugee camps in which conditions were abysmal.

After receiving her master's degree, Danticat took a job with filmmaker Jonathan Demme's New York City production office; in this capacity she worked as an associate producer on Courage and Pain, a documentary about survivors of torture in Haiti. In an interview with Ingrid Sturgis appearing in Emerge, Danticat spoke of the outlaw status of writers in Haiti's dictatorial past. "In our world, if you are a writer, you are a politician, and we know what happens to politicians. They end up in a prison dungeon, where their bodies are covered in scalding tar before they're forced to eat their own waste." With Demme she traveled back to her homeland in 1994 for the first time since leaving thirteen years earlier; she was thus able to view the ceremony marking Aristide's official return to power.

The year 1994 brought Danticat more honors. The New York Times Magazine included her in a story about "30 Artists under 30," a group whose members the editors predicted would make an impact on American culture in the next thirty years. In addition, Breath, Eyes, Memory received a fiction award from the Black Caucus of the American Literary Association.

Published Acclaimed Short Story Collection

In 1995 a collection of short stories—some dating back to Danticat's Barnard days—was published by Soho Press. Krik? Krak! takes its title from Danticat's Creole language: "Krik?," one inquires to another at the onset of a folk tale, roughly meaning "I have a story—would you like to hear it?," and "Krak!" comes the reply, the equivalent of "Yes, go ahead!"

In nine interrelated stories, Danticat used her own family's experiences as a basis for the lives of the characters. Much of the action takes place in the capital city of Port-au-Prince or the rural Ville Rose, where women must sometimes walk two miles each morning for the day's water. The story "1937" follows the travails of a woman imprisoned and tortured for witchcraft. Another takes place on one of the infamous doomed boats heading for Florida. "Children of the Sea" recounts a journey through letters written by a pair of lovers who never receive the other's missives. Through the letters, Danticat's story provides insight into the difficulties of life in Haiti and why so many knowingly risked their lives to escape.

"The best of these stories," wrote Robert Houston in the New York Times Book Review, "humanize, particularize, [and] give poignancy to the lives of people we may have come to think of as faceless emblems of misery, poverty, and brutality." Joanne Omang in the Washington Post Book World asserted that Danticat "has woven the sad with the funny, the unspeakable with the glorious, [and] the wild horror [with the] deep love that is Haiti today." Reviewing Krik? Krak! for the Seattle Times, Michael Upchurch found that "Danticat's often-sobering subjects are leavened by the bracing elegance of her prose and by her fondness for riddle." Krik? Krak! was nominated for the prestigious National Book Award in 1995.

In 1998 Danticat published her second novel, The Farming of Bones. This work tells the story of a Haitian housemaid in the Dominican Republic, Amabelle Desir, against the historical background of an infamous 1937 massacre of Haitian migrant workers directed by the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo Molina. Writing in the New York Times, Michael Upchurch stated that Danticat "evokes the shock with which a small personal world is disrupted by military mayhem…. Danticat knows the value of understatement in bringing nightmarish scenes to life, and a spare, searing poetry infuses many of the book's best passages."

Danticat's next work, The Dew Breaker, published in 2004, is a series of interconnected tales—variously described as a novel and a short story collection—tracing back to Duvalier's brutal Tontons Macoute. The reader gradually discovers that the characters in the stories are both victims and perpetrators, all haunted by the events of this bloody period in Haitian history. Writing in the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani stated that The Dew Breaker is "Ms. Danticat's most persuasive, organic performance yet. As seamless as it is compelling, the novel recounts its harrowing tale in limpid, understated prose." Widely acclaimed, The Dew Breaker was awarded the Story Prize—a $20,000 award for the best short story collection of the year—and was a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist.

Uncle Died in Detention

Also in 2004, the uncle who raised Danticat, Joseph Dantica, became a victim of the chronic political unrest in Haiti and the official indifference of the U.S. government. In the aftermath of military intervention by United Nations troops and Haitian police against armed gangs and political factions in his Port-au-Prince neighborhood, Dantica, an eighty-one-year-old Baptist minister, was threatened with death by gang members who claimed that fifteen of their friends had been killed by military snipers shooting from the roof of his church, and that he would have to pay for their funerals or be killed. Dantica escaped by hiding under a neighbor's bed for three days and eventually fled to the United States on a valid visa. Upon his arrival, he explained that he would be killed if he returned and applied for temporary asylum. Plagued by heart problems and high blood pressure, Dantica collapsed during his interview and began vomiting; the medic on duty announced that he was "faking." Arrested and held in detention, Dantica was denied access to his medication and died in custody.

Three years later Danticat published Brother, I'm Dying, a memoir centered on her father, Mira, and his brother Joseph. As in her other works, Danticat depicted the intersection of private lives with Haiti's tragic history, portraying the brothers on either side of the immigration divide: Mira, the hard-working immigrant who sacrificed everything to secure a better future for his children, and Joseph, who remained in Haiti as long as possible—despite his family's pleas for him to emigrate—seeking to serve his congregation and community. Brother, I'm Dying was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography and was nominated for a National Book Award.

Selected writings

Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel), Soho Press, 1994.

Krik? Krak! (short stories), Soho Press, 1995.

The Farming of Bones (novel), Soho Press, 1998.

The Dew Breaker (fiction), Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Brother, I'm Dying (autobiography), Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

B.E.T. Weekend, February 1996, p. 20.

Emerge, April 1995, p. 58.

Guardian (London), November 20, 2004.

Islands, May/June 1995.

Miami Herald, April 19, 1995.

New York, November 20, 1995.

New York Newsday, March 30, 1995; May 16, 1995.

New York Times, October 23, 1995; September 27, 1998; March 10, 2004; September 9, 2007.

New York Times Book Review, April 23, 1995, p. 22.

New York Times Magazine, November 20, 1994.

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 17, 1994.

Progressive, January 1997.

Seattle Times, April 30, 1995.

USA Today, October 20, 1995; November 9, 1995, p. D6.

Village Voice, September 4, 2007.

Washington Post, October 14, 2007.

Washington Post Book World, May 14, 1995, p. 4.

Online

Birnbaum, Robert, "Birnbaum v. Edwidge Danticat," Morning News, April 20, 2004, http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/personalities/birnbaum__v_edwidge_danticat.php (accessed May 30, 2008).

Other

Additional information for this profile was provided by Soho Press publicity materials, 1997.

—Carol Brennan and Paula Kepos

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Danticat, Edwidge 1969–

Edwidge Danticat 1969

Novelist

Death Was Always Around Us

Degrees from Barnard, Brown

National Book Award Nominee

Selected writings

Sources

Image not available for copyright reasons

Edwidge Danticat is one of only a handful of contemporary novelists of Haitian heritage writing in English. Danticat did not begin learning English until she moved from Haiti to New York City as an adolescent. Her talents in this second language were evident in the award-winning 1994 debut, Breath, Eyes, Memory. In this work, as well as her equally lauded 1995 short story collection Krik?Krak!, Danticat focuses on the lives and losses of Haitians, both at home-where poverty, political repression, and fear were everyday hindrances for decades-and as transplants to an equally dangerous urban American setting where Haitians face a similar poverty, compounded by racism. The agonies of Haiti are as wide as they are deep, the Caribbean-focused journal Islands acknowledged. It would seem impossible, in fact, to write anything about Haiti that wasnt entirely tragic, yet Edwidge Danticat has done it.

Danticat was born in Leogane, a rural area of Haiti, in 1969. When she was two, her father emigrated to New York City to find more promising work. Her mother joined him two years later and left Danticat and a younger brother behind with a relative. The future writer was raised in proximity to several extended family members, some of whom were elders who thrived on telling folk tales. Oral traditions assumed a vital role in the education and sense of heritage for young Haitians like Danticat; for years the country had a marginal literacy rateone of the lowest in the western hemisphereand television broadcasts were infrequent because of meager electricity. My most vivid memories of Haiti involved incidents that represent power failures, Danticat recalled in her publicity biography. At those times, you cant read, or study, or watch TV, so you sit around a candle and listen to stories from the elders in the house.

Death Was Always Around Us

Spirituality and the rituals of religion also impacted Danticat as a child. Her uncle was a Baptist minister, and she would attend all the funerals of the community with him. For a young girl whose parents had disappeared from her world-and furthermore, a world where people who curried disfavor with the political regimes of dictator Francois Duvalier and his son, Baby Doc Duvalier also disappeared with regularity-death was a lesser dread.

At a Glance

Born January, 1969, in Leogane, Haiti; immigrated to the United States, c. 1981 became naturalized citizen; daughter of a cab driver and a factory worker. Education: Barnard College, B.A., 1990; Brown University, M.F A., 1993.

Novelist Associate producer, Jonathan Demmes Courageand Pain (a documentary), c 1993-94.

Selected awards: Fiction award, Black Caucus of the American Literary Association, 1994, for Breath, Eyes, Memory; Woman of Achievement Award, Barnard College, 1995; Pushcart Prize, 1995; National Book Award nomination, 1995, for Krik? Krakl; named one of Twenty Best Young American Novelists by Granta magazine, 1996, for Breath, Eyes, Memory.

Addresses: Home -Brooklyn, NY. Office -Soho Press, 853 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

Danticat once shared a room with a distant relative, a woman who was more than 100 years old and was present when she passed away. I accepted her death very easily because in Haiti death was always around us, Danticat remarked in her publicity biography.

Life in Haiti was difficult. Poverty and fear infected daily life and blunted simple childhood pleasures. I have memories of Jean Claude Baby Doc Duvalier and his wife racing by in their Mercedes Benz and throwing money out of the window to the very poor children in our neighborhood, Danticat recalled in her publicity biography. Another time, a radio* announcement alerted children to a Christmas-time toy giveaway at the presidential palace. My cousins and I went and were nearly trampled in the mob of children who flooded the palace lawns, she remembered.

More problematic for Danticat, however, was her family situation. The initial question of my life was explaining to myself first my mothers absence and then my fathers, Danticat told New York s Rebecca Mead. When she [Danticats mother] was leaving, I didnt understand.... I didnt get it at all-and not just the fact that she was absent, but the conditions that drive that and that separate families.... Her mothers move to New York City-though ultimately only a temporary loss-was nevertheless a difficult cross for Danticat to bear. Haitian culture gives a special reverence to mothers and to be san man man --motherless-is also a synonym for a hoodlum, or someone who knows no boundaries of human decency.

When Danticat was 12, she and her brother flew to New York City to join her parentsand two younger brothers born there. The airport reunion was no picnic for Danticat, however. I was very, very nervous, Danticat recalled of the moment in an interview with the Miami Heralds Margaria Fichtner. I didnt know these people. I felt like I was adopted. Her reunited family lived in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, and Danticat was enrolled in a bilingual education program to help with the transition. Danticat later credited the bilingual program at her intermediate school with giving her the platform to obtain a decent education. Its very easy to get lost in the public school system because its so big, and I am very shy, she told Joyce Purnick of the New York Times.

Danticat received an English-language set of author/illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans Madeleine books as a gift. Danticats first foray into literary expression was in attempting to write a version of Madeleine with herself cast in the role of the orphaned, misunderstood title character. As a junior-high student, Danticat was teased by peers because of her accent. Their name-calling pushed an already shy Danticat deeper into her shell, but also led her to take pen to paper searching for words to convey her feelings, wrote B.E.T. Weekend writer Patrik Henry Bass.

Occasionally adolescent tensions would erupt into violence, and Danticat witnessed fights between African Americans and Haitian immigrants. She went on to a high school geared toward teenagers hoping to pursue a career in medicine. Yet the program, in which students actually worked in a hospital after school, ultimately dissuaded Danticat from becoming a nurse.

Degrees from Barnard, Brown

After high school, Danticat moved into a less stressful atmosphere when she enrolled at Barnard College on a scholarship. She majored in French literature, and, after receiving her B.A. in 1990, was still considering going on to nursing school. Her parentsa taxi driver and a factory worker-strongly felt that their children should enter into well-paid, respected professions. To them, a career in the arts did not seem a solid, income-providing vocation, but Danticat won a scholarship to Brown University and enrolled their graduate writing program.

As an undergraduate, Danticat had begun an essay on herself and her lineage. She sent it to a literary agent, who suggested she expand it a bit more. Danticat turned it into her Brown thesis and eventually sent it back to the literary agency. One week later she was lunching with the agent, and the work became her first book. Breath, Eyes, Memory was published in 1994.

The novel follows the experiences of a young female Haitian immigrant to New York City, Sophie Caco, who is a victim of sexual abuse. The tale also involves Sophies mothers prior assault by one of Duvaliers secret police-the Tonton Macoute-and touches upon Sophies bonds with her aunt and grandmother. Danticat stressed in interviews that the abuse these women suffered was not autobiographical in nature. In the Miami Herald, Fichtner noted that many hailed the books emotional complexity and its resonant portrayal of the burdens history, politics, and culture impose upon the lives and hearts of women. Fichtner also noted that Breath, Eyes, Memory has much to say about what it is like to be young, black, Haitian, and female wandering in a world too often eager to regard all of those conditions as less than worthwhile.

Danticats willingness to tackle controversial subject matter earned her comparisons to African American author Alice Walker, and she even admitted to borrowing a character from Warrior Marks, Walkers treatise against female circumcision in lesser developed countries. Danticat explained that she saw the work as a way to give voice to the Haitian communitys silenced women: In our culture, women could not talk about things that bothered them ... because there is such a greater repression, Danticat told Philadelphia Inquirer writer Kevin L. Carter.

As Danticat was enjoying the first flushes of literary success, political events in Haiti brought her homeland into the news, causing reverberations in her own life. The Duvalier regime had spiraled to an end in 1986, and four years later, Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, became the nations first freely elected leader. In 1991, a military coup ousted Aristide, who then fled the country. The international community responded with a trade embargo, which deeply hurt the already-impoverished Haitian people, and U.S. troops were eventually deployed. Haitians in large numbers began fleeing to Florida on makeshift boats; those intercepted on the way were put into refugee camps where conditions were abysmal.

After receiving her master degree, Danticat had taken a job with filmmaker Jonathan Demmes New York City production office; in this capacity she worked as an associate producer on Courage and Pain, a documentary about survivors of torture in Haiti. In an interview with Ingrid Sturgis for Emerge, Danticat spoke of the outlaw status of writers in Haitis dictatorial past. In our world, if you are a writer, you are a politician, and we know what happens to politicians. They end up in a prison dungeon, where their bodies are covered in scalding tar before theyre forced to eat their own waste. With Demme she traveled back to her homeland in 1994 for the first time since leaving 13 years earlier; she was thus able to view the ceremony marking Aris-tides official return to power.

The year 1994 brought Danticat more honors. The New York Times Magazine included her in a 30 Artists under 30 story, a group the editors predicted most likely to make an impact on American culture in the next 30 years. In addition, Breath, Eyes, Memory received the fiction award from the Black Caucus of the American Literary Association.

In 1995, a collection of short stories-some dating back to Danticats Barnard days-was published by Soho Press. Krik?Krak! takes its title from Danticats Creole languageKrifc? one inquires to another at the onset of a folk tale, roughly meaning I have a story-would you like to hear it?, and Krak! comes the reply, the equivalent of Yes, go ahead!

National Book Award Nominee

In nine interrelated stories, Danticat used some her own familys experiences as a basis for the lives of the characters. Much of the action takes place in the capital city of Port-au-Prince or the rural Ville Rose, where women must sometimes walk two miles each morning for the days water. The story 1937 follows the travails of a woman imprisoned and tortured for witchcraft. Another takes place on one of the infamous doomed boats heading for Florida. Children of the Sea recounts the journey through letters written by a pair of lovers who never receive the others missives. Through the letters, Danticats story provides insight into the difficulties of life in Haiti and why so many purposely risked their lives to escape.

The best of these stories, wrote the New York Times Book Reviews Robert Houston, humanize, particularize, [and] give poignancy to the lives of people we may have come to think of as faceless emblems of misery, poverty, and brutality. Washington Post Book World writer Joanne Omang asserted that Danticat has woven the sad with the funny, the unspeakable with the glorious, [and] the wild horror and [with the] deep love that is Haiti today. Reviewing Krik? Krak! for the Seattle Times, Michael Upchurch found that Danticats often-sobering subjects are leavened by the bracing elegance of her prose and by her fondness for riddle.

Accordingly, the lauded Krik? Krak! was nominated for the prestigious National Book Award in 1995, placing Danticat in the company of established writers Philip Roth and Madison Smartt Bell that year. She announced that her next literary project would be a book about an infamous 1937 massacre of Haitians that occurred in the neighboring Dominican Republic. She also hoped to delve into issues relevant to the African diaspora. We are all one people, Danticat told Carter in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was like there was this boat that left Africa and made a lot of stops; some of us got off here, some got off there.

Selected writings

Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel), Soho Press, 1994.

Krik? Krakl (short stories), Soho Press, 1995.

Sources

Periodicals

B.E.T. Weekend, February 1996, p. 20.

Emerge, April 1995, p. 58.

Islands, May/June 1995.

Miami Herald, April 19, 1995.

New York, November 20, 1995.

New York Newsday, March 30,1995; May 16,1995.

New York Times, October 23, 1995.

New York Times Book Review, April 23, 1995, p 22.

New York Times Magazine, November 20, 1994.

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 17, 1994.

Progressive, January 1997.

Seattle Times, April 30, 1995.

USA Today, October 20,1995; November 9, 1995, p. D6.

Washington Post Book World, May 14, 1995, p. 4.

Other

Additional information for this profile was provided by Soho Press publicity materials, 1997.

Carol Brennan

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"Danticat, Edwidge 1969–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Danticat, Edwidge 1969–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 11, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/danticat-edwidge-1969

"Danticat, Edwidge 1969–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved September 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/danticat-edwidge-1969

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Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

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Danticat, Edwidge

DANTICAT, Edwidge

Nationality: American. Born: Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 19 January1969. Education: Barnard College, 1990; Brown University, M.F.A. 1993. Career: Freelance writer, 1994. Address: c/o Soho Press, 853 Broadway, Number 1903, New York, New York 10003, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York, Soho Press, 1994.

The Farming of Bones. New York, Soho Press, 1998.

Short Stories

Krik? Krak! New York, Soho Press, 1995.

Other

Foreword, The Magic Orange Tree, and Other Haitian Folktales, edited by Diane Wolkstein. New York, Schocken Books, 1997.

Foreword, A Community of Equals: The Constitutional Protection of New Americans by Owen Fiss, edited by Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers. Boston, Beacon Press, 1999.

Contributor, Island on Fire: Passionate Visions of Haiti from the Collection of Jonathan Demme, edited by Jonathan Demme. Nyack, New York: Kaliko Press, 1997.

*

Edwidge Danticat comments:

(2000) At the end of most readings and lectures, a writer is often asked, "How much of your work is autobiographical?" The writer's reaction to that question varies, depending on the subject of the work. I once heard a young, shy, soft-spoken, female novelist who had just published a thriller about a serial killer quickly answer, "Not much." However, for most of us, the answer is not always so simple.

As novelist and short story writer Katherine Anne Porter once said, "A story is something you wind out of yourself. Like a spider, it is a web you weave, and you love your story like a child." In an interview with Donna Perry for her book Backtalk: Women Writers Speak Out, British novelist and Booker Prize winner Pat Barker adds that the starting point of any work is "inevitably always something in your life, just as the source of every single character you create has to be yourself."

Is most writing on some levellarge or smallautobiographical, whether it be emotional autobiography or straight out borrowing from our lives?

In order to create full-fledged, three dimensional characters, writers often draw on their encounters, observations, collages of images from the everyday world, both theirs and others'. We are like actors, filtering through our emotions what life must be like, or must have been like, for those we write about. Truly we imagine these lives, aggrandize, reduce, or embellish, however we often begin our journey with an emotion close to our gut, whether it be anger, curiosity, joy, or fear.

I always have trouble answering the "How much of your work is autobiographical?" question. Not so much because it feels like a curiosity probe or a violation of privacy, but simply because the question at times rings to me like an oxymoron. To ask a fiction writer how much truth is in her work seems like asking a jockey if his/her black horse is green. (Or maybe it's if his/her black horse is black?) I once heard a writer angrily answer that autobiographical question with "If I wanted to write an autobiography, I would have written one." However, the question can be a valid one, for what about the little mannerisms of ourselves that show up in the main or minor characters in our stories? What of the characters that we plop fully formed on the page mimicking our friends and relatives? And what of the incidents from childhood that reappear over and over in different forms in our tales?

Still what do we answer? Is the work ten percent autobiographical, twenty percent? Fifty percent?

I was born in Haiti in 1969 and moved to the United States when I was twelve to be reunited with my mother and father who had left Haiti eight years before I did. My first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, is about a girl, Sophie Caco, who is born in Haiti as a result of a rape and comes to the United States to be reunited with her mother when she is twelve. Because of the obvious similarities between the character's and my childhood, many of my readers assume that I too was born as a result of a rape. I was not. However there are many other things that the main character in that novel, Sophie Caco, and I share.

In writing Breath, Eyes, Memory, I used the sadness and desolation I experienced as a child separated from my parents. When I invented Sophie Caco, I relived my wonder at seeing a new country for the first time and infused those moments into her first day in New York. Perhaps what I did was write an emotional autobiography, but not a factual one.

I have always split my memories into two realms: one of real memory and one of fictional memory. Fictional memory has a series of plot devices, ordered scenes, convenient settings, clever dialogue and revisions aimed at the ending of your choice. My fictional memories are what come up when I consider my real memories and ask myself "What if?" What if when Sophie Caco/Edwidge Danticat arrives in New York City for the first time she discovers a dark secret in her past, her mother's rape.

Real memory is fragmented, messy, disorganized, has no clever dialogue and you don't always get the ending of your choice. That's why I prefer to write fiction, though it is fiction that draws heavily from certain moments in my life. With my fictional memories, I can use lies to tell a greater truth, winding a different kind of tale out of myself, one in which the possibilities for tangents and digressions are boundless; I can also weave a more elaborate web, where everyone's life can serve as a thread, including my own.

* * *

American literature has produced more than its share of prodigies. From Stephen Crane to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Carson McCullers to Truman Capote, many American writers have achieved significant acclaim, and produced some of their most famous works, while still in their twenties. To this list may be added the name of Edwidge Dandicat. Her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, appeared when the author was twenty-five and was guaranteed significant popular success as a selection of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club. Her next book, the short story collection Krik? Krak! was a finalist for the National Book award. Her second novel, The Farming of Bones, appeared in 1998.

Born in Haiti, Dandicat moved to the United States at the age of twelve, and all of her fiction to date has been devoted to an unflinching examination of her native culture, both on its own terms and in terms of its intersections with American culture. Dandicat's work emphasizes in particular the heroism and endurance of Haitian women as they cope with a patriarchal culture that, in its unswerving devotion to tradition and family, both oppresses and enriches them. When Sophie, the narrator of Breath, Eyes, Memory, is taken from Haiti to live with her mother in New York City, she adapts to American culture on the surface but is damaged by her mother's obsession with female "purity" and constant, degrading "testing" of Sophie's virginitya procedure that was also done to Sophie's mother, and her mother before her. Sophie leaves her mother, marries an American, and has a daughter of her own, but she must make a return pilgrimage to Haiti before she can begin, if not to condone, then to come to terms with her mother's actions and begin to understand the history she and her mother share with all the other "daughters of this land."

While Dandicat's first novel and most of her short stories focus on the plight and legacy of "those nine hundred and ninety-nine women who were boiling in your blood" (to quote the author's "Epilogue" to Krik? Krak! ), The Farming of Bones paints on an even broader canvas as we witness the horrors of dictator Rafael Trujillo's 1937 massacre of Haitians resident in the Dominican Republic. The narrator, Amabelle, Haitian servant to a prosperous Dominican family, at first is reluctant to believe the rumors of massacre but eventually has no choice as she and her lover Sebastien witness unspeakable brutalities during their attempt to flee to Haiti. The few who survive carry with them wounds beyond the physical; by the time Trujillo is finally assassinated almost a quarter-century later, Amabelle and the other survivors must cope not only with the enormity of their catastrophe but with "the most unforgivable weaknesses of the dead: their absence and their silence."

Dandicat's novels and stories are written with a passionate lyricism but also with a control of craft and seriousness of purpose that would be impressive in any writer and are astonishing in one so young. She is determined to bear imaginative witness to the history of her culture. In so doing, she offers no easy outsThe Farming of Bones in particular is a narrative of almost unrelieved sufferingbut also never lets us forget that the people of her stories, no matter how wounded, are individuals of intelligence and dignity and irreducible worth. That is, of course, a message for all cultures, and we are fortunate that a writer as talented as Dandicat has made proclaiming it her life's work.

F. Brett Cox

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Danticat, Edwidge

Danticat, Edwidge

January 19, 1969


Edwidge Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her parents emigrated to the United States when she was only two years old, leaving her and a younger brother in the custody of their aunt and uncle. The two children had to wait until 1981 to be reunited with their parents, who were living in Brooklyn, New York. Sent to an American public school, she started writing in English to develop her mastery of the language. While attending Barnard College, some of her short stories were published in the magazines Essence and Seventeen. In 1991 she became involved with the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees (NCHR), speaking at public meetings in defense of Haitian boat people and other illegal immigrants.

In 1994 Danticat published her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory. The novel tells about the experience of migration and adjustment in the United States from a child's perspective, and it explores mother-daughter relationships and female bonding. The work was widely acclaimed upon publication, and it has generated numerous critical studies.

Danticat's second book, Krik? Krak! (1995), a collection of short stories, was a finalist for the National Book Award and received the Pushcart Short Story Prize. The stories of the collection, anchored around the imaginary provincial town of Ville-Rose, reveal a writer experimenting with style and technique. In 1998 Danticat published The Farming of Bones, a compelling novel about the 1937 slaughter of Haitian cane workers in the Dominican Republic. In June of that same year, Breath, Eyes, Memory was selected as a featured book on the Oprah Winfrey Show as part of Oprah's Book Club.

Danticat has also edited two anthologies: The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures and The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora (2001), a collection of writings by Haitians living in the United States. Other publications include a book on Carnival in Haiti, After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti (2002); a children's story, Behind the Mountains (2003); her third novel, The Dew Breaker (2004); and a historical young-adult novel, Anacoana (2005).

Danticat's books have been translated into French, Spanish, German, and Dutch, and in 1999 she received the Prix Carbet (a coveted French Caribbean literary prize) for La Récolte douce des larmes, the French translation of The Farming of Bones. Because she writes in English, it took some time for her to find acceptance among Haitian writers living in Haiti. However, they have come to recognize her as a "go-between" and the most talented writer of the young generation.

Danticat is also very committed to the Haitian community, both in Haiti and the United States. She collects books for Haitian schools and visits the special sections of American schools to which Haitian migrant children are often relegated.

See also Caribbean/North American Writers (Contemporary); Literature of Haiti; Women Writers of the Caribbean

Bibliography

N'Zengou-Tayo, Marie-José. "Rewriting Folklore: Traditional Beliefs and Popular Culture in Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!" MaComère 3 (2000): 123140.

Shea, Renee H. "The Dangerous Job of Edwidge Danticat: An Interview." Callaloo 19, no. 2 (Spring 1996): 382389.

marie-josÉ n'zengou-tayo (2005)

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Danticat, Edwidge

DANTICAT, Edwidge

DANTICAT, Edwidge. American (born Haiti), b. 1969. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories. Career: Novelist, short story writer, 1994-. Publications: Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel), 1994; Krik? Krak! (short stories), 1995; The Farming of Bones (novel), 1998; The Dew Breaker, 2004. Address: c/o Soho Press, 853 Broadway No. 1903, New York, NY 10003, U.S.A.

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Danticat, Edwidge

Edwidge Danticat

Author

Born January 19, 1969, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; immigrated to United States, 1981; daughter of André Miracin (a cab driver) and Rose Souvenance (a textile worker) Danticat. Education: Barnard College, B.A. 1990; Brown University, M.F.A., 1993.

Addresses: Office—c/o Author Mail, Soho Press, 853 Broadway, No. 1903, New York, NY 10003.

Career

Author, educator, and lecturer, 1994—. Professor, New York University, New York, NY, 1996-97; visiting professor of creative writing, University of Miami, Miami, FL, spring, 2000. Also production and research assistant at Clinica Estetico, 1993-94.

Member: Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Awards: Named one of 20 Best of American Novelists by Granta, 1996; Pushcart Prize for short fiction; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, for The Farming of Bones; fiction awards from periodicals, including Caribbean Writer, Seventeen, and Essence; Lannan Foundation Fellowship, 2004; Story Prize for outstanding collection of short fiction, for The Dew Breaker, 2005.

Sidelights

Fiction writer Edwidge Danticat (pronounced Ed-WEEDJ Dan-ti-KAH) conjures the history of her native Haiti in award-winning short stories and novels. She is equally at home describing the immigrant experience—what she calls "dyaspora"—and the reality of life in Haiti today. Danticat's fiction "has been devoted to an unflinching examination of her native culture, both on its own terms and in terms of its intersections with American culture," wrote an essayist in Contemporary Novelists. "Danticat's work emphasizes in particular the heroism and endurance of Haitian women as they cope with a patriarchal culture that, in its unswerving devotion to tradition and family, both oppresses and enriches them." Readers will find "massacres, rapes, [and] horrible nightmares in Danticat's fiction," wrote an essayist in the St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, "but above all these are the strength, hope, and joy of her poetic vision."

Danticat's first novel, the loosely autobiographical Breath, Eyes, Memory, was a 1998 selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, thus assuring its bestseller status. Other Danticat works have won warm praise as well, with some critics expressing surprise that such assured prose has come from an author so young. Antioch Review correspondent Grace A. Epstein praised Danticat for "the real courage in excavating the romance of nationalism, identity, and home." Time reporter Christopher John Farley likewise concluded that Danticat's fiction "never turns purple, never spins wildly into the fantastic, always remains focused, with precise disciplined language, and in doing so, it uncovers moments of raw humanness."

Danticat was born in Haiti and lived there the first 12 years of her life. She came to the United States in 1981, joining her parents who had already begun to build a life for themselves in New York City. When she started attending junior high classes in Brooklyn, she had difficulty fitting in with her classmates because of her Haitian accent, clothing, and hairstyle. Danticat recalled for Garry Pierre-Pierre in the New York Times that she took refuge from the isolation she felt by writing about her native land. As an adolescent she began work on what would evolve into her first novel, the acclaimed Breath, Eyes, Memory. Danticat followed her debut with a 1995 collection of short stories, Krik? Krak!—a volume which became a finalist for that year's National Book Award. According to Pierre-Pierre, the young author has been heralded as "'the voice' of Haitian Americans," but Danticat told him, "I think I have been assigned that role, but I don't really see myself as the voice for the Haitian-American experience. There are many. I'm just one."

Danticat's parents wanted her to pursue a career in medicine, and with the goal of becoming a nurse, she attended a specialized high school in New York City. But she abandoned this aim to devote herself to her writing. An earlier version of Breath, Eyes, Memory served as her master of fine arts thesis at Brown University, and the finished version was published shortly thereafter. Like Danticat herself, Sophie Caco—the novel's protagonist—spent her first 12 years in Haiti, several in the care of an aunt, before coming wide-eyed to the United States. But there the similarities end. Sophie is the child of a single mother, conceived by rape. Though she rejoins her mother in the United States, it is too late to save the still-traumatized older woman from self-destruction. Yet women's ties to women are celebrated in the novel, and Sophie draws strength from her mother, her aunt, and herself in order to escape her mother's fate.

Breath, Eyes, Memory caused some controversy in the Haitian-American community. Some of Danticat's fellow Haitians felt that some of the practices she documented portrayed them as primitive and abusive. American critics, however, widely lauded Breath, Eyes, Memory. Joan Philpott in Ms. hailed the book as "intensely lyrical." Pierre-Pierre reported that reviewers "have praised Ms. Danticat's vivid sense of place and her images of fear and pain." Jim Gladstone concluded in the New York Times Book Review that the novel "achieves an emotional complexity that lifts it out of the realm of the potboiler and into that of poetry." And Bob Shacochis, in his Washington Post Book World review, called the work "a novel that rewards a reader again and again with small but exquisite and unforgettable epiphanies." Shacochis added, "You can actually see Danticat grow and mature, come into her own strength as a writer, throughout the course of this quiet, soul-penetrating story about four generations of women trying to hold on to one another in the Haitian diaspora."

Krik? Krak! takes its title from the practice of Haitian storytellers. Danticat told Deborah Gregory of Essence that storytelling is a favorite entertainment in Haiti, and a storyteller inquires of his or her audience, "Krik?" to ask if they are ready to listen. The group then replies with an enthusiastic, "Krak!" The tales in this collection include one about a man attempting to flee Haiti in a leaky boat, another about a prostitute who tells her son that the reason she dresses up every night is that she is expecting an angel to descend upon their house, and yet another explores the feelings of a childless housekeeper in a loveless marriage who finds an abandoned baby in the streets. The New York Times Book Review's Robert Houston, citing the fact that some of the stories in Krik? Krak! were written while Danticat was still an undergraduate at Barnard College, felt that these pieces were "out of place in a collection presumed to represent polished, mature work." But Ms.'s Jordana Hart felt that the tales in Krik? Krak! "are textured and deeply personal, as if the 26-year-old Haitian-American author had spilled her own tears over each." Even Houston conceded that readers "weary of stories that deal only with the minutiae of 'relationships' will rejoice that they have found work that is about something, and something that matters."

Danticat's 1998 novel, The Farming of Bones, concerns a historical tragedy, the 1937 massacre of Haitian farm workers by soldiers from the Dominican Republic. In the course of less than a week, an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic were slaughtered by the Dominican government or by private citizens in a classic case of "ethnic cleansing." The Farming of Bones is narrated by a young Haitian woman, Amabelle Desir, who has grown up in the Dominican Republic after being orphaned. As the nightmare unfolds around her, Amabelle must flee for her life, separated from her lover, Sebastien. In the ensuing decades as she nurses her physical and psychological wounds, Amabelle serves as witness to the suffering of her countrymen and the guilt of her former Dominican employers. The massacre, Danticat told Mallay Charters in Publishers Weekly, is "a part of our history, as Haitians, but it's also a part of the history of the world. Writing about it is an act of remembrance."

Dean Peerman wrote in Christian Century that "Breath, Eyes, Memory was an impressive debut, but The Farming of Bones is a richer work, haunting and heartwrenching." In Nation, Zia Jaffrey praised Danticat for "blending history and fiction, imparting information, in the manner of nineteenth-century novelists, without seeming to." Jaffrey added: "Danticat's brilliance as a novelist is that she is able to put this event into a credible, human context." Time's Farley also felt that the author was able to endow a horrific episode with a breath of humanity. "Every chapter cuts deep, and you feel it," he stated, continuing on to say that Amabelle's "journey from servitude to slaughter is heartbreaking." In Americas, Barbara Mujica concluded that Danticat has written "a gripping novel that exposes an aspect of Dominican-Haitian history rarely represented in Latin American fiction. In spite of the desolation and wretchedness of the people Danticat depicts, The Farming of Bones is an inspiring book. It is a hymn to human resilience, faith, and hope in the face of overwhelming adversity." Jaffrey ended her review by concluding that the novel is "a beautifully conceived work, with monumental themes."

The 2002 novel Behind the Mountains takes the form of a diary of teenage Haitian Celiane Esperance. Celiane is happy in her home in the mountains of Haiti, but she has not seen her father since he left for the United States years before. She had intended to join him in New York, along with her mother and older brother, but visa applications are inexorably slow. After eight years, the visas are granted, and the family reunites in Brooklyn. After an initially joyful reunion, however, the family begins to slowly unravel. A child when her father left Haiti, Celiane is now a young woman with her own mind and will. Her brother, Moy, a 19-year-old artist, does not quietly slip back into the role of obedient child. Even more universal concerns, such as the freezing New York winters, difficulties at school, and the need to make a living, chip away at the family's unity. Good intentions go awry in a book showcasing "friction among family members" exacerbated by "the separation and adjustment to a new country," but especially by the inevitable maturation of younger family members and the unwillingness of parents to acknowledge it, wrote Diane S. Morton in School Library Journal. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, praised the "simple, lyrical writing" Danticat demonstrates in the novel. According to Kliatt's Claire Roser, "Danticat brings her formidable skill as a writer and her own firsthand knowledge of Haiti and immigrating to America to this heartfelt story told in the intimate diary format."

In addition to her own works, Danticat has also edited the fiction of others, including 2001's The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States. This work is a collection of stories, poems, and essays from Haitian writers living in America and Europe, many of whom are concerned about the feeling of displacement that is perhaps an inevitable consequence of emigration. Denolyn Carroll suggested in Black Issues Book Review that the pieces in The Butterfly's Way "help paint a vivid picture of what it is like to live in two worlds." Carroll also felt that the work added "new dimensions of understanding of Haitian emigrant's realities. This compilation is a source of enlightenment for us all." Booklist contributor Donna Seaman found the book "a potent and piercing collection" that will help all Americans understand "the frustrations of Haitians who are now outsiders both in Haiti and in their places of refuge."

After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Haiti is Danticat's 2002 nonfiction account of her first encounter with Carnival, the boisterous, sometimes debauched, sometimes dangerous celebrations that rock Haiti every year. As a child, she did not have the opportunity to attend Carnival. Her family inevitably packed up and left for a remote area in the Haitian mountains each year to escape the celebrations, perpetuating an almost superstitious distrust of the event. At times, though, staying clear has been a good idea. During the regime of Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, carnival-goers were "subject to beatings and arrest by Duvalier's infamously unregulated militamen," wrote Judith Wynn in the Boston Herald. Danticat therefore approaches her first experience of Carnival uneasily. Her trip, however, beginning a week before the actual event, immerses her in the rich culture and history of Haiti, the cultural importance behind Carnival, and the background of the celebration itself. Danticat's "lively narrative" describes a country with a deep history, "influenced by Christianity, voodoo, Europeans, pirates, dictators, past slavery, and an uncertain economy," wrote Linda M. Kaufmann in Library Journal. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, observed that "as in her fiction, Danticat writes about her odyssey with an admirable delicacy and meticulousness," while a Publishers Weekly critic noted that the author "offers an enlightening look at the country—and Carnival—through the eyes of one of its finest writers."

In 2004, Danticat's book, The Dew Breaker, was published. The nine interrelated short stories move back and forth in time, telling the tale of a sanctioned torturer of dissidents under the regime of Duvalier; he is called the "Dew Breaker" because he arrives before dawn to carry out his task. The unnamed man moves to the United States and raises a family but still feels immense guilt for his deeds. In the book, Danticat brings up the "question of whether forgiveness and redemption are possible in the face of monstrous, unspeakable deeds, according to Christian Century. That year, The Dew Breaker was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award; plus, Danticat was awarded the Lannan Foundation Fellowship. In 2005, the book was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award and won the Story Prize for outstanding collection of short fiction.

Danticat's 2005 novel, Anacaona, Golden Flower, was written for young people. It is the story of Haiti's Queen Anacaona, the wife of one of the island's rulers in the 15th century. When Spaniards began to settle on Haiti, the natives were treated cruelly; when the Haitians revolted, several native nobles were arrested and put to death. According to Booklist, the book "adds a vital perspective to the literature about Columbus and European expansion in the Americas."

"In order to create full-fledged, three-dimensional characters, writers often draw on their encounters, observations, collages of images from the everyday world, both theirs and others," Danticat remarked in a biographical essay in Contemporary Novelists. "We are like actors, filtering through our emotions what life must be like, or must have been like, for those we write about. Truly we imagine these lives, aggrandize, reduce, or embellish, however we often begin our journey with an emotion close to our gut, whether it be anger, curiosity, joy, or fear."

Selected writings

The Creation of Adam (play), produced in Providence, RI, 1992.

Dreams Like Me (play), produced at Brown University New Plays Festival, 1993.

Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel), Soho Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Krik? Krak! (short stories), Soho Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Children of the Sea (play), produced at Roxbury Community College, 1997.

The Farming of Bones (novel), Soho Press (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Jonathan Demme) Odillon Pierre, Artist of Haiti, Kaliko Press (Nyack, NY), 1999.

(Editor) The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2000.

(Editor) The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2001.

(Translator and author of afterword, with Carrol F. Coates) Jackes Stephen Alexis, In the Flicker of an Eyelid, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2002.

After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Haiti, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2002.

Behind the Mountains (novel), Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Dew Breaker (short stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.

Anacaona, Golden Flower, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.

Sources

Books

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, vol. 29, Gale, 1999.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 94, Gale, 1996.

Contemporary Novelists, 7th ed., St. James Press, 2001.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, Gale, 1999.

Short Stories for Students, vol. 1, Gale, 1997.

Periodicals

America, November 6, 1999, p. 10.

Americas, January 2000, p. 62; May 2000, p. 40.

Antioch Review, winter 1999, p. 106.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 29, 2000, p. D3.

Belles Lettres, fall 1994, p. 36, p. 38; summer 1995, pp. 12-15.

Black Issues Book Review, January 1999, p. 20; May 2001, p. 60; July/August 2004, p. 43.

Bloomsbury Review, September-October 1994, p. 12.

Booklist, January 1, 1999, p. 778; March 15, 1999, p. 1295; June 1, 1999, p. 1796; February 15, 2000, p. 1096; October 15, 2000, p. 416; February 15, 2001, p. 1096; January 1, 2002, p. 763; August 2002, pp. 1895-96; October 1, 2002, p. 312; July 2005.

Boston Herald, November 17, 2000, p. 43; September 1, 2002, p. 61.

Callaloo, spring 1996, pp. 382-89.

Christian Century, September 22, 1999, p. 885; December 14, 2004, p. 22.

Emerge, April 1995, p. 58.

Entertainment Weekly, September 3, 1999, p. 63; March 19, 2004, p. 69.

Essence, November 1993, p. 48; April 1995, p. 56; May 1996.

Globe and Mail, June 12, 1999, p. D4.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, p. 782; September 15, 2002, p. 1387.

Kliatt, November 1999, p. 16; November 2002, p. 8.

Library Journal, November 1, 2000, p. 80, p. 103; June 15, 2002, p. 83.

Ms., March/April 1994, pp. 77-78; March/April, 1995, p. 75.

Nation, November 16, 1998, p. 62.

Newsday, March 30, 1995, p. B2, p. B25; May 21, 1995, p. A52.

New York, November 20, 1995, p. 50.

New York Times, January 26, 1995, p. C1, p. C8; October 23, 1995, p. B3.

New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1994, p. 24; April 23, 1995, p. 22; September 27, 1998, p. 18; December 5, 1999, p. 104; December 10, 1999, p. 36.

New York Times Magazine, June 21, 1998.

O, February 2002, pp. 141-45.

Off Our Backs, March 1999, p. 13.

Organic Style, April 2004, p. 22.

People, September 28, 1998, p. 51; March 29, 2004, p. 53.

Poets and Writers, January 1997.

Progressive, January 1997, p. 39; December 1998, p. 44.

Publishers Weekly, January 24, 1994, pp. 39-40; May 25, 1998; August 17, 1998, p. 42; November 2, 1998, p. 40; September 11, 2000, p. 69; December 18, 2000, p. 65; May 13, 2002, pp. 58-59; October 28, 2002, p. 72.

Quarterly Black Review, June 1995, p. 6.

Reference & User Services Quarterly, spring 1999, p. 253.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 21, 1999, p. D3.

School Library Journal, May 1995, p. 135; October 2002, p. 160.

Time, September 7, 1998, p. 78.

Times (London, England), March 20, 1999, p. 19.

Times Literary Supplement, April 28, 2000, p. 23.

Village Voice Literary Supplement, July 1995, p. 11.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December 1995, p. 299.

Washington Post Book World, April 3, 1994, p. 6; May 14, 1995, p. 4.

World & I, February 1999, p. 290.

World Literature Today, spring 1999, p. 373.

Online

"Edwidge Danticat," Voices from the Gaps, http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Bios/entries/danticat_edwidge.html (July 5, 2005).

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Danticat, Edwidge 1969–

Danticat, Edwidge 1969–

PERSONAL: Name is pronounced "Ed-weedj Dan-ti-kah;" born January 19, 1969, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; immigrated to the United States, 1981; daughter of André Miracin (a cab driver) and Rose Souvenance (a textile worker) Danticat. Ethnicity: "Black." Education: Barnard College, B.A. 1990; Brown University, M.F.A., 1993.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.

CAREER: Writer. Clinica Estetico (filmmakers), New York, NY, production and research assistant, 1993–94; writer, educator, and lecturer, 1994–. New York University, professor, 1996–97; University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, visiting professor of creative writing, spring, 2000.

MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Award nomination, 1995, for Krik? Krak!; Lannan Foundation Fellowship, 2004; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2004, and PEN/Faulkner Award nomination, 2005, both for The Dew Breaker; Pushcart Prize for short fiction; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, for The Farming of Bones; fiction awards from periodicals, including Caribbean Writer, Seventeen, and Essence.

WRITINGS:

The Creation of Adam (play), produced in Providence, RI, 1992.

Dreams like Me (play), produced in Providence, RI, at Brown University New Plays Festival, 1993.

Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel), Soho Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Krik? Krak! (short stories), Soho Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Children of the Sea (play), produced in Roxbury Crossing, MA, at Roxbury Community College, 1997.

The Farming of Bones (novel), Soho Press (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Jonathan Demme) Odillon Pierre, Artist of Haiti, Kaliko Press (Nyack, NY), 1999.

(Editor) The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2000.

(Editor) The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2001.

(Translator and author of afterword, with Carrol F. Coates) Jackes Stephen Alexis, In the Flicker of an Eyelid (novel), University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2002.

After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Haiti, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2002.

Behind the Mountains (novel), Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Dew Breaker (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.

Anacaona, Golden Flower: Haiti, 1490 (juvenile novel), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: Fiction writer Edwidge Danticat conjures the history of her native Haiti in award-winning short stories and novels. She is equally at home describing the immigrant experience—what she calls "dyaspora"—and the reality of life in Haiti today. Danticat's fiction "has been devoted to an unflinching examination of her native culture, both on its own terms and in terms of its intersections with American culture," wrote an essayist in Contemporary Novelists. "Danticat's work emphasizes in particular the heroism and endurance of Haitian women as they cope with a patriarchal culture that, in its unswerving devotion to tradition and family, both oppresses and enriches them." Readers will find "massacres, rapes, [and] horrible nightmares in Danticat's fiction," wrote an essayist in the St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, "but above all these are the strength, hope, and joy of her poetic vision."

Danticat's first novel, the loosely autobiographical Breath, Eyes, Memory, was a 1998 selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, thus assuring its best-seller status. Other Danticat works have won warm praise as well, with some critics expressing surprise that such assured prose has come from an author so young. Antioch Review correspondent Grace A. Epstein praised Danticat for "the real courage … in excavating the romance of nationalism, identity, and home." Time reporter Christopher John Farley likewise concluded that Danticat's fiction "never turns purple, never spins wildly into the fantastic, always remains focused, with precise disciplined language, and in doing so, it uncovers moments of raw humanness."

Danticat was born in Haiti and lived there the first twelve years of her life. She came to the United States in 1981, joining her parents who had already begun to build a life for themselves in New York City. When she started attending junior high classes in Brooklyn, she had difficulty fitting in with her classmates because of her Haitian accent, clothing, and hairstyle. Danticat recalled for Garry Pierre-Pierre in the New York Times that she took refuge from the isolation she felt in writing about her native land. As an adolescent she began work on what would evolve into her first novel, the acclaimed Breath, Eyes, Memory. Danticat followed her debut with a collection of short stories, Krik? Krak!—a volume which became a finalist for that year's National Book Award. According to Pierre-Pierre, the young author has been heralded as "'the voice' of Haitian-Americans," but Danticat told him, "I think I have been assigned that role, but I don't really see myself as the voice for the Haitian-American experience. There are many. I'm just one."

Danticat's parents wanted her to pursue a career in medicine, and with the goal of becoming a nurse, she attended a specialized high school in New York City. But she abandoned this aim to devote herself to her writing. An earlier version of Breath, Eyes, Memory served as her master of fine arts thesis at Brown University, and the finished version was published shortly thereafter. Like Danticat herself, Sophie Caco—the novel's protagonist—spent her first twelve years in Haiti, several in the care of an aunt, before coming wide-eyed to the United States. But there the similarities end. Sophie is the child of a single mother, conceived by rape. Though she rejoins her mother in the United States, it is too late to save the still-traumatized older woman from self-destruction. Yet women's ties to women are celebrated in the novel, and Sophie draws strength from her mother, her aunt, and herself in order to escape her mother's fate.

Breath, Eyes, Memory caused some controversy in the Haitian-American community. Some of Danticat's fellow Haitians did not approve of her writing of the practice of "testing" in the novel. In the story, female virginity is highly prized by Sophie's family, and Sophie's aunt "tests" to see whether Sophie's hymen is intact by inserting her fingers into the girl's vagina. Haitian-American women, some of whom have never heard of or participated in this practice, felt that Danticat's inclusion of it portrayed them as primitive and abusive. American critics, however, appreciated Breath, Eyes, Memory. Joan Philpott in Ms. described the book as "intensely lyrical." Pierre-Pierre reported that reviewers "have praised Ms. Danticat's vivid sense of place and her images of fear and pain." Jim Gladstone concluded in the New York Times Book Review that the novel "achieves an emotional complexity that lifts it out of the realm of the potboiler and into that of poetry." And Bob Shacochis, in his Washington Post Book World review, called the work "a novel that rewards a reader again and again with small but exquisite and unforgettable epiphanies." Shacochis added, "You can actually see Danticat grow and mature, come into her own strength as a writer, throughout the course of this quiet, soul-penetrating story about four generations of women trying to hold on to one another in the Haitian diaspora."

Krik? Krak! takes its title from the practice of Haitian storytellers. Danticat told Deborah Gregory of Essence that storytelling is a favorite entertainment in Haiti, and a storyteller inquires of his or her audience, "Krik?" to ask if they are ready to listen. The group then replies with an enthusiastic, "Krak!" The tales in this collection include one about a man attempting to flee Haiti in a leaky boat, another about a prostitute who tells her son that the reason she dresses up every night is that she is expecting an angel to descend upon their house, and yet another explores the feelings of a childless housekeeper in a loveless marriage who finds an abandoned baby in the streets. The New York Times Book Review reviewer, Robert Houston, citing the fact that some of the stories in Krik? Krak! were written while Danticat was still an undergraduate at Barnard College, felt that these pieces were "out of place in a collection presumed to represent polished, mature work." But Ms. contributor Jordana Hart felt that the tales in Krik? Krak! "are textured and deeply personal, as if the twenty-six-year-old Haitian-American author had spilled her own tears over each." Even Houston conceded that readers "weary of stories that deal only with the minutiae of 'relationships' will rejoice that they have found work that is about something, and something that matters."

Danticat's novel The Farming of Bones concerns a historical tragedy, the 1937 massacre of Haitian farm workers by soldiers of the Dominican Republic. In the course of less than a week, an estimated 12,000-15,000 Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic were slaughtered by the Dominican government or by private citizens in a classic case of "ethnic cleansing." The Farming of Bones is narrated by a young Haitian woman, Amabelle Desir, who has grown up in the Dominican Republic after being orphaned. As the nightmare unfolds around her, Amabelle must flee for her life, separated from her lover, Sebastien. In the ensuing decades as she nurses her physical and psychological wounds, Amabelle serves as witness to the suffering of her countrymen and the guilt of her former Dominican employers. The massacre, Danticat told Mallay Charters in Publishers Weekly, is "a part of our history, as Haitians, but it's also a part of the history of the world. Writing about it is an act of remembrance."

Dean Peerman wrote in Christian Century that "Breath, Eyes, Memory was an impressive debut, but The Farming of Bones is a richer work, haunting and heart-wrenching." In Nation, Zia Jaffrey praised Danticat for "blending history and fiction, imparting information, in the manner of nineteenth-century novelists, without seeming to." Jaffrey added: "Danticat's brilliance as a novelist is that she is able to put this event into a credible, human context." Farley also felt that the author was able to endow a horrific episode with a breath of humanity. "Every chapter cuts deep, and you feel it," he stated, continuing on to say that Amabelle's "journey from servitude to slaughter is heartbreaking." In Amerícas, Barbara Mujica concluded that Danticat has written "a gripping novel that exposes an aspect of Dominican-Haitian history rarely represented in Latin American fiction. In spite of the desolation and wretchedness of the people Danticat depicts, The Farming of Bones is an inspiring book. It is a hymn to human resilience, faith, and hope in the face of overwhelming adversity." Jaffrey ended her review by concluding that the novel is "a beautifully conceived work, with monumental themes."

Behind the Mountains takes the form of a diary of teenage Haitian Celiane Esperance. Celiane is happy in her home in the mountains of Haiti, but she hasn't seen her father since he left for the United States years before. She had intended to join him in New York, along with her mother and older brother, but visa applications are inexorably slow. After eight years, the visas are granted, and the family reunites in Brooklyn. After an initially joyful reunion, however, the family begins to slowly unravel. A child when her father left Haiti, Celiane is now a young woman with her own mind and will. Her brother, Moy, a nineteen-year-old artist, does not quietly slip back into the role of obedient child. Even more universal concerns, such as the freezing New York winters, difficulties at school, and the need to make a living, chip away at the family's unity. Good intentions go awry in a book showcasing "friction among family members" exacerbated by "the separation and adjustment to a new country," but especially by the inevitable maturation of younger family members and the unwillingness of parents to acknowledge it, wrote Diane S. Morton in School Library Journal. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, praised the "simple, lyrical writing" Danticat demonstrates in the novel. "Danticat brings her formidable skill as a writer and her own firsthand knowledge of Haiti and immigrating to America to this heartfelt story told in the intimate diary format," wrote Claire Rosser in Kliatt.

In addition to her own works, Danticat has also edited the fiction of others, including The Butterfly's Way: From the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States. This work is a collection of stories, poems, and essays from Haitian writers living in America and Europe, many of whom are concerned with the feeling of displacement that is perhaps an inevitable consequence of emigration. Denolyn Carroll suggested in Black Issues Book Review that the pieces in The Butterfly's Way "help paint a vivid picture of what it is like to live in two worlds." Carroll also felt that the work adds "new dimensions of understanding of Haitian emigrant's realities. This compilation is a source of enlightenment for us all." Booklist contributor Donna Seaman found the book "a potent and piercing collection" that will help all Americans understand "the frustrations … of Haitians who are now outsiders both in Haiti and in their places of refuge."

After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Haiti is Danticat's nonfiction account of her first encounter with Carnival, the boisterous, sometimes debauched, sometimes dangerous celebrations that rock Haiti every year. As a child, she did not have the opportunity to attend Carnival. Her family inevitably packed up and left for a remote area in the Haitian mountains each year to escape the celebrations, perpetuating an almost superstitious distrust of the event. At times, though, staying clear has been a good idea. During the regime of Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, carnival-goers were "subject to beatings and arrest by Duvalier's infamously unregulated militamen," wrote Judith Wynn in the Boston Herald. Danticat therefore approaches her first experience of Carnival uneasily. Her trip, however, beginning a week before the actual event, immerses her in the rich culture and history of Haiti, the cultural importance behind Carnival, and the background of the celebration itself. Danticat's "lively narrative" describes a country with a deep history, "influenced by Christianity, voodoo, Europeans, pirates, dictators, past slavery, and an uncertain economy," wrote Linda M. Kaufmann in Library Journal. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, observed that "as in her fiction, Danticat writes about her odyssey with an admirable delicacy and meticulous-ness," while a Publishers Weekly critic noted that the author "offers an enlightening look at the country—and Carnival—through the eyes of one of its finest writers."

The Dew Breaker is a work of mystery and violence. It is a collection of short stories (many previously unpublished) connected by the character of the Dew Breaker, a torturer whose nickname is based on the fact that he attacks in the dawn before the dew has disappeared in the light of day. The Dew Breaker ultimately moves from Haiti to Brooklyn, becomes a barber, and raises a loving family. In Danticat's stories, the Dew Breaker reveals his secrets out of guilt, and his victims reveal their secrets, too, to ease the pain of their memories. Danticat's "spare, lyrical prose is ever present," wrote Marjorie Valbrun in the Black Issues Book Review, "in the gentle telling of stories that are soft to the ear even when pain and violence seem to scream from the pages." "The text presents two levels of truth," commented Robert McCormick in World Literature Today. In the course of reading, one comes to understand much, he hinted, but "what we don't know … is just as important."

Anacaona, Golden Flower: Haiti, 1490 is a novel for the upper elementary and middle school grades, written in the form of a diary. Anacaona is a young princess of the Taíno people who comes of age in the time of Christopher Columbus. She weds a royal chieftain who lives nearby and undergoes military training to defend her island home. Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg predicted that "readers will connect with Danticat's immediate, poetic language, Anacaona's finely drawn growing pains, and the powerful, graphic story."

"In order to create full-fledged, three-dimensional characters, writers often draw on their encounters, observations, collages of images from the everyday world, both theirs and others," Danticat remarked in a biographical essay in Contemporary Novelists. "We are like actors, filtering through our emotions what life must be like, or must have been like, for those we write about. Truly we imagine these lives, aggrandize, reduce, or embellish, however we often begin our journey with an emotion close to our gut, whether it be anger, curiosity, joy, or fear."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 94, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Short Stories for Students, Volume 1, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.

PERIODICALS

America, November 6, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 10.

Amerícas, January, 2000, Barbara Mujica, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 62; May, 2000, Michele Wucker, profile of Danticat, p. 40.

Antioch Review, winter, 1999, Grace A. Epstein, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 106.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 29, 2000, Valerie Boyd, review of The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures, p. D3.

Belles Lettres, fall, 1994, Mary Mackay, "Living, Seeing, Remembering," pp. 36, 38; summer, 1995, pp. 12-15.

Black Issues Book Review, January, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 20; May, 2001, Denolyn Carroll, review of The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, p. 60; July-August, 2004, Marjorie Valbrun, review of The Dew Breaker, p. 43.

Bloomsbury Review, September-October, 1994, p. 12.

Booklist, January 1, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 778; March 15, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 1295; June 1, 1999, review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. 1796; February 15, 2000, Deborah Taylor, review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. 1096; October 15, 2000, review of The Beacon Best of 2000, p. 416; February 15, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 1096; January 1, 2002, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 763; August, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Haiti, pp. 1895-1896; October 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 312; May 15, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of Anacaona, Golden Flower: Haiti, 1490, p. 1674.

Boston Globe, Jordana Hart, "Danticat's Stories Pulse with Haitian Heartbeat," p. 70.

Boston Herald, November 17, 2000, Rosemary Herbert, "Writing in the Margins: Author-Editor Edwidge Danticat Celebrates Rich Pageant of Multicultural Stories," p. 43; September 1, 2002, Judith Wynn, review of After the Dance, p. 61.

Callaloo, spring, 1996, Renee H. Shea, interview with Danticat, pp. 382-389.

Christian Century, September 22, 1999, Dean Peerman, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 885.

Emerge, April, 1995, p. 58.

Entertainment Weekly, September 3, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 63.

Essence, November, 1993, Edwidge Danticat, "My Father Once Chased Rainbows," p. 48; April, 1995, Deborah Gregory, "Edwidge Danticat: Dreaming of Haiti" (interview), p. 56; May, 1996.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 12, 1999, review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. D4.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, review of After the Dance, p. 782; September 15, 2002, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 1387.

Kliatt, November, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 16; November, 2002, Claire Rosser, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 8.

Library Journal, November 1, 2000, Barbara O'Hara, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 80, Ann Burns and Emily Joy, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 103; June 15, 2002, Linda M. Kaufmann, review of After the Dance, p. 83.

Ms., March-April, 1994, Joan Philpott, "Two Tales of Haiti," review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, pp. 77-78; March-April, 1995, Jordana Hart, review of Krik? Krak!, p. 75.

Nation, November 16, 1998, Zia Jaffrey, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 62.

Newsday, May 21, 1995, p. A52; March 30, 1995, Richard Eder, "A Haitian Fantasy and Exile," pp. B2, B25.

New York, November 20, 1995, Rebecca Mead, review of Krik? Krak!, p. 50.

New York Times, January 26, 1995, Garry Pierre-Pierre, "Haitian Tales, Flatbush Scenes," pp. C1, C8; October 23, 1995, p. B3.

New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1994, Jim Gladstone, review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. 24; April 23, 1995, Robert Houston, Krik? Krak!, p. 22; September 27, 1998, Michael Upchurch, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 18; December 5, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 104; December 10, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 36.

New York Times Magazine, June 21, 1998.

O, February, 2002, profile of Danticat, pp. 141-145.

Off Our Backs, March, 1999, review of Krik? Krak!, The Farming of Bones, and Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. 13.

People, September 28, 1998, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 51.

Poets and Writers, January, 1997.

Progressive, January, 1997, p. 39; December, 1998, Matthew Rothschild, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 44.

Publishers Weekly, January 24, 1994, pp. 39-40; May 25, 1998; August 17, 1998, Mallay Charters, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 42; November 2, 1998, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 40; September 11, 2000, review of The Beacon Best of 2000, p. 69; December 18, 2000, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 65; May 13, 2002, review of After the Dance, pp. 58-59; October 28, 2002, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 72.

Quarterly Black Review, June, 1995, Kimberly Hebert, review of Krik? Krak!, p. 6.

Reference and User Services Quarterly, spring, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 253.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 21, 1999, Shauna Scott Rhone, review of The Farming of Bones, p. D3.

School Library Journal, May, 1995, p. 135; October, 2002, Diane S. Marton, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 160.

Time, September 7, 1998, Christopher John Farley, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 78.

Times Literary Supplement, April 28, 2000, Helen Hayward, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 23.

Times (London, England), March 20, 1999, Rachel Campbell-Johnston, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 19.

Village Voice Literary Supplement, July, 1995, p. 11.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1995, p. 299.

Washington Post Book World, April 3, 1994, Bob Shacochis, "Island in the Dark," p. 6; May 14, 1995, Joanne Omang, review of Krik? Krak!, p. 4.

World and I, February, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 290.

World Literature Today, spring, 1999, Jacqueline Brice-Finch, "Haiti," p. 373; January-April, 2005, Robert McCormick, review of The Dew Breaker, p. 83.

ONLINE

Free Williamsburg, http://www.freewilliamsburg.com/ (February 11, 2003), Alexander Laurence, interview with Danticat.

Voices from the Gaps, http://voices.cla.umn.edu/ (February 11, 2003), "Edwidge Danticat."

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Danticat, Edwidge 1969–

Edwidge Danticat 1969-

Haitian-born American novelist, essayist, editor, short story writer, and children's book author.

INTRODUCTION

Danticat has emerged as one of the most important Caribbean-American authors in contemporary literature. Her novels and short fiction explore Haiti's violent and troubled past as well as her own ambivalent experience as a Haitian exile living in Brooklyn. Critics have praised her lyrical language, skillful storytelling, and sharp insights into the issues faced by Haitians in their homeland and in the United States.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Danticat was born in 1969 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She was very young when her parents emigrated to New York City, leaving her in Haiti to be raised by surrogate parents. At that time, Haiti was ruled by President "Baby Doc" Duvalier and the ruthless Tonton Macoutes, who tortured and killed many Haitians. Danticat joined her parents in Brooklyn in 1981, but had a difficult time adjusting to her new home—she was lonely and felt dislocated, and in response, she began to write fiction and drama set in her homeland of Haiti. As a young woman, Danticat attended Barnard College, earning a degree in French. After graduation from Barnard, she pursued graduate studies at Brown University, eventually earning an M.F.A. degree. During her years at Brown, she also wrote two plays that were produced at the Brown University New Plays Festival. Her master's thesis later evolved into her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published in 1994. A year later, her first collection of short stories, Krik? Krak! was a finalist for the 1995 National Book Award. In 1998 her second novel, The Farming of Bones, received the American Book Award and the Pushcart Prize for short fiction. She was awarded a Story Prize for her short story collection The Dew Breaker (2004). That same year Danticat received a Lannan Literary Fellowship. Her stories have been published in the New Yorker, Callaloo, and other periodicals. Danticat lives in Miami.

MAJOR WORKS OF SHORT FICTION

Breath, Eyes, Memory chronicles the story of Sophie Caco, who travels from Haiti to New York to be reunited with her mother, Martine. Alienated from the only home she has ever known, Sophie struggles to deal with her mother's abusive behavior and her own sense of identity. She eventually marries, has a child, and returns to Haiti to confront her family's past. Danticat's next novel, The Farming of Bones, takes an historical event as its basis: the 1937 slaughter of thousands of Haitian sugar cane cutters ordered by Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo. Danticat tells the story through the character of Amabelle Desir, who as a young girl witnesses her parents' drowning while trying to cross the river back into Haiti. She is rescued by Don Ignacio, who takes her into his house, where she lives as the companion and servant to Ignacio's daughter, Valencia. Years later, the Dominican government began a campaign to massacre any Haitians or citizens of mixed blood. No longer safe in Valencia's home, Amabelle is forced to undertake a dangerous journey back to Haiti, along with thousands of other Haitians.

In After the Dance: A Walk through the Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti (2002), Danticat describes the various cultural and historic influences on Carnival and offers insight into the deep and diverse roots of Haitian culture represented in the colorful celebration. Danticat has also written two novels for young adults, Behind the Mountains (2002) and Anacaona, Golden Flower (2005).

In her short story collections Krik? Krak! and The Dew Breaker, Danticat explores the challenges of the immigrant experience as well as the reality of Haitian life, focusing on the courage and fortitude of Haitian women struggling to express themselves within a patriarchal culture. Her first collection, Krik? Krak! is comprised of nine stories, many of them written during her college years. The volume's title is taken from a Haitian storytelling ritual: when a storyteller asks "Krik?," the audience enthusiastically responds "Krak!" to signal their readiness for a story. The tales are not only deeply personal but touch on Haiti's troubled and violent past. Assimilation is a major theme in several of the stories, as Danticat's immigrant characters, haunted by their past, struggle to find a place in their new surroundings. Her next collection, The Dew Breaker, has been variously described as short fiction or as a novel. The stories center on an enigmatic man known as the Dew Breaker, who was a torturer and jailor in Haiti for the dictator Papa Doc Duvalier many years ago and now works as a barber in Brooklyn. The pieces are told from the perspective of the man's wife and daughter, other immigrants, and survivors who think they recognize him.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Danticat is considered a talented and insightful Haitian-American author. Critics have commended her complex characters and her perceptive observations of the diasporic experience as well as the political, socioeconomic, and cultural realities of life in Haiti and the United States. Although some critics have found her fiction uneven, most reviewers have praised her lyrical language and use of imagery culled from Haitian folkloric traditions. In stylistic analyses of her work, commentators have examined how the links between stories, characters, and events—through the repetition of names, cultural experiences, and historical events—function to create a richly textured narrative. They have also lauded the way Danticat reconstitutes the experiences of her Haitian ancestors as well as Caribbean folklore to revisit events in Haitian history. Throughout her career, she has mined a rich personal and cultural history to produce works that critics value for their artistry as well as for the light they shed on the labyrinthine issues faced by Haitians.

PRINCIPAL WORKS

The Creation of Adam (play) 1992

Dreams Like Me (play) 1993

Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel) 1994

Krik? Krak! (short stories) 1995

Children of the Sea (play) 1997

The Farming of Bones (novel) 1998

After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti (nonfiction) 2002

Behind the Mountains (novel) 2002

The Dew Breaker (short stories) 2004

Anacaona, Golden Flower: Haiti, 1490 (juvenilia) 2005

CRITICISM

Eileen Burchell (essay date 2003)

SOURCE: Burchell, Eileen. "As My Mother's Daughter: Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (1994)." In Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender, edited by Jerilyn Fisher and Ellen S. Silber, pp. 60-2. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003.

[In the following essay, Burchell elucidates the central themes of Breath, Eyes, Memory.]

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.

Patrick Samway (essay date winter 2003-04)

SOURCE: Samway, Patrick. "A Homeward Journey: Edwidge Danticat's Fictional Landscapes, Mindscapes, Genescapes, and Signscapes in Breath, Eyes, Memory." Mississippi Quarterly 57, no. 1 (winter 2003-04): 75-83.

[In the following essay, Samway asserts that in Breath, Eyes, Memory Danticat creates a complex pattern of sign-images that reveals both the Haitian feminine psyche and Danticat's immigrant experiences.]

A number of summers ago, while acting as the summer replacement pastor of Sen Elèn, the Catholic parish in Carice, Haiti, a town hidden in the mountains about an hour's drive from Ouanaminthe in the country's northeast sector, I read the series of small booklets used in all the schools to teach the history of Haitian literature. In a country where paper is scarce, these booklets preserve Haiti's valuable literary heritage, including snippets of works in French and Creole, as well as a mixture of the two languages—now professionally anthologized by Jean-Claude Bajeux in his bilingual Mosochwazi Pawòl Ki Ekri an Kreyòl Ayisyen.1 As I witnessed on numerous occasions, Haitian students memorize some pertinent facts concerning an author's biography in order to be able to cite the author's major literary work, having usually read at most a page or two of it. As Bajeux notes, "Nou ta bezwen yon bon diksyonè lang kreyòl la, pou l ta di nou ki kote tout pawòl kreyòl la yo sòti. Nou ta bezwen tou yo ranmase nan tout peyi a tout kont k ap sikile, ki nan memwa yon pakèt moun men ki poko mete sou papye" (p. iii).2 In a country where approximately ninety percent of the population speak and comprehend only Creole, it is not surprising that contemporary Haitian writers, whether they write in Creole, as does Maude Heurtelou, or in French, as do Gary Victor and Margaret Papillon, look to their indigenous linguistic and cultural roots, unlike many of their predecessors who imitated, decade after decade, French belles lettres. Curiously, American fiction and nonfiction writers, from George Washington Cable (The Creoles of Louisiana [1884]) to James Weldon Johnson in his essays on Haiti in The Nation (1920)3 to William Faulkner (Absalom, Absalom! [1936]) to Zora Neal Hurston (Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica [1938]) to Madison Smartt Bell (All Souls' Rising [1995]), have looked to Haiti for source material. Somewhere in between lies Edwidge Danticat, a naturalized American citizen of Haitian descent who moved to Brooklyn at age twelve and who went on to earn degrees at both Hunter College (B.A.) and Brown University (M.F.A.).4

Though Danticat feels comfortable living in Brooklyn, as she once told me, Haiti is both her "country" and her "home."5 The simple, disarming plot of Breath, Eyes, Memory, three of whose protagonists travel between Brooklyn and Haiti, belies an intricate and, at times, backlooping depiction of the distaff side of the Caco family, a proper name that aptly refers to both a flamboyant red bird and Haitian revolutionary heroes. Since the protagonist, Sophie Caco, shares one essential fact with Danticat herself—both left Haiti at age twelve to travel to Brooklyn—the assumption is that the novel is a roman-à-clef. In a radically unprecedented way, Danticat addresses Sophie directly in the novel's "Afterword," acknowledging that Sophie's story is hers alone and should be read that way to emphasize the singularity of Sophie's experience, along with its own peculiarities, inconsistencies, and voice. At the same time, she implies an autobiographical kinship, something not uncharacteristic of first novels, if only from a retrospective point of view, when she states that both she and Sophie have been through the journey together.

Like Thoreau performing a phrenological analysis of Walden Pond, discovering that this small parcel of earth not only reflects but actually embodies the transcendental depths of the heavens above—suggestive in its own way of Wessex or Yoknapatawpha—so too Danticat's homeland contains all the essential elements that nurture life. Above all, through the confluence of apparently ordinary situations, like the rivulets feeding Walden Pond, which, in turn, resemble the veins of a leaf or the veins of a human hand, Danticat has created an intricate pattern of sign-images, some of which focus on birth, growth, testing, love, death, that at times bifurcate or trifurcate, leading to other sign-images—all of which emanate from personal sources but lead to unlimited possibilities and beyond that to more heartwrenching limited probabilities and so create a progressive type of semiotics concerning the open-endedness of language.

In Breath, Eyes, Memory, four generations interact with one another in both predictable and unpredictable ways; even if one or other female character is absent from a particular scene, the truth is otherwise. "Isn't it a miracle," Grandmother Ifé states while looking at her great-granddaughter Brigitte, "that we can visit with all our kin, simply by looking into this face" (p. 105). Her statement likewise recalls another significant one, when Sophie's Tante Atie instructs her as they visit a local cemetery: "Walk straight, you are in the presence of family" (p. 149). These ghostly ancestors have all returned to "Guinea," heaven, the spirit-world beyond, a locale accepted by Catholics and Voodooists alike, since neither tradition, in Danticat's spiritual economy, has precedence over the other. Erzulie, the Haitian goddess of love, and the Virgin Mary are but two incarnations of the same person.

Guinea is the place, Sophie states, "where all the women in my family hoped to eventually meet one another, at the very end of each of our journeys" (p. 174). Yet no two journeys to Guinea are the same. Sophie's therapist, a Santeria priestess, tells her she has a Madonna-image of her mother Martine—a not-so-accurate evaluation, as it turns out, since Martine commits suicide by stabbing her stomach seventeen times with an old rusty knife and killing her unwanted fetus, reminiscent of the time she tried to abort the developing Sophie in her womb. Martine is buried in a vibrant red, two-piece suit, which, in turn, recalls the bloodied warrior image embodied in her family name. Sophie returns to Haiti to attend her mother's funeral in Dame Marie, itself a maternal sign-name, the town we learn where she herself was born. "It was as if I had lived here all my life," she says (p. 229). Like the word Guinea, Grandmother Ifé's name points in a specific direction, back to a city and civilization in Nigeria, where black men and women were seized to be sold into slavery. Sophie's name is derived from the Greek, meaning wisdom. Atie's name points in two directions at once: toward the Greek word for folly or bewilderment (ατη) and the Haitian word for earth (atè), a word tangentially related to Sophie's married name, Woods, likewise carried by her husband and daughter. What should one make of the names of two women whose first names begin with "Man," except to say that the implied referential and evocative nature of these names, like all the others, must be held in suspension until the fullness of what they imply or suggest can gather, throughout the telling of the story, their appropriate weight and import.

These sign-images, when taken together, do not remain static but participate in, and are revelatory of, not only the totality of the Haitian feminine psyche—its loveliness, pain, endurance, dignity—which has been with Danticat since her earliest days in Haiti, as poignantly witnessed too in her moving "Foreword" to Beverly Bell's powerful accounts of the stories of survival and resistance of Haitian women in Walking on Fire (2001), but of the process of emotional, familial, social, historical, linguistic, and cultural transference as she evaluates the pang and tether of Haitian society from changing dynamics of her life in Brooklyn. Living in two worlds at once, one physically (the United States) and the other through mental imaging and recall (Haiti), which reverse themselves when she travels to Haiti, Danticat's natural artistic impulse is to look to private and public Haitian sources, as found particularly in folklore, proverbs, and the ordinary events of everyday life, and translate these into English both to herself as writer and to her English-reading audience. Aware that the Haitian communal psyche has been formed by myriad factors, including an endless line of dictators and the concomitant suppression of the populace; the presence of the American Marines during approximately fifteen years of U.S. occupation; relentless struggles with fellow islanders, the Dominicans; subjugation by both the Spanish and French, and the total annihilation of the original stock of Haitians, often referred to as Arawaks, the task of translating complicated simultaneously concurrent Haitian relationships in a manner reflecting the simple stories that Haitians habitually tell one another in Creole demands, if it is to have international credence, an imagination rooted in the written literature of disparate nationalities and the specific oral tradition of a country Danticat has only sporadically visited since her earliest teens. Could Danticat, one might well ask, ever separate mal du pays (homesickness) from mal du pays (evils suffered by her homeland), or are they inextricably linked forever within her heart?

Although, from the perspective of some in the community, Martine is considered the scarlet whore who cannot endure the trauma of having another child ("Mwin pa kapab enkò" [p. 224], she says to the ambulance people), even if this one is fathered by her lover, Marc, and not, like Sophie's father, a rapist. Yet Sophie's initial, poetic memory of her mother suggests—much in the spirit of Vardaman Bundren in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying that "My mother is a fish"6—a different sort of woman, one both fragile and strong, though not in the way she could have ever envisioned as a child:

My mother is a daffodil,
Limber and strong as one.
My mother is a daffodil,
But in the wind, iron strong.
 
          (p. 24)

Martine's totally nihilistic unwillingness to begin again with the draining responsibilities of motherhood comments upon and stands in stark contrast to Sophie's loving desire to bring her daughter Brigitte into the welcoming arms of the Haitian community of Croix-des-Rosets and Dame Marie, where, even if she cannot now comprehend the interconnected dynamics enveloping her, she will nevertheless have stories of her own to tell that originate from significant, familial, female Haitian sources. Brigitte will undoubtedly be told, at some point in her life, as Sophie had learned by age twelve, of Martine's rape and the way some women react in a society where they have too long been terrorized by the Tonton Macoutes, though others, like Tante Atie, carefully and calmly plan their final journeys. Sophie, like her mother, went through a period of hating her body, ashamed to show it to anyone, including her husband. As she says, "men were as mysterious to me as white people," though there is every indication that she loves her musician-husband (p. 67). Brigitte, likewise, had difficulty saying "Daddy," but that too passed.

Tante Atie's insistence that the young Father Lavalas preside at her funeral not so subtly enfolds a political dimension into the novel, given that the Reverend Jean-Bertrand Aristide founded Haiti's dominant political party, Lavalas. More than any other Haitian at the time of the composition of this novel, Aristide, twice President of Haiti, had the power to evoke aspirations of political, economic, and spiritual liberation among his people. Sophie's own quest for freedom began with her elopement with Joseph and the rupture of her maidenhead with a pestle, similar to, as she says, "the breaking of manacles, an act of freedom" (p. 130). The essential question reverberating among the Haitian women in the novel, "Ou libéré?" ("Are you free?"), impels the novel steadily forward (p. 233). All the sign-images spring from and return to this fundamental human desire for freedom. A young Haitian woman, even today, as portrayed in this novel, is not given freedom as an outright gift but must pursue it, especially by undergoing a rite of initiation, of being tested digitally in the vagina, so that each elder in the family—and, by extension, the entire community—can know whether their younger sisters have lived up to the expectations, essential in their minds, of a proper and fitting marriage, reflective no doubt of their communal desire to see children born of parents whose love bond has been accepted by society, itself a sign that one can achieve more and more freedom to the degree that one is not psychologically handicapped or socially stigmatized from birth. Sophie wells knows about stigmas: HBO, Haitian Body Odor, is the code among American teenagers, particularly those in Brooklyn, for HIV.

Sophie's struggle to answer "Ou libéré?" partially involves leaving the comfort of Providence, Rhode Island, like Ifé another sign-name, to rediscover her home, Haiti. (In Krik? Krak!, home is Ville Rose, derived from Danticat's mother's first name and based on her native town of Léogane. Sophie, herself, believes she "was born out of the petals of roses" [p. 47].) Sophie repeats in Breath, Eyes, Memory African and Haitian Voodoo tales, sayings, and proverbs, the latter often impenetrable to the mind of a blan (that is, a white person or tourist), but which express the accumulated and accepted wisdom of Haitian society. They allow her access to the mysteries only one's heart can hear and one's spirit can guess. Much like Tante Atie found new freedom in learning to read, so too Sophie answers "Ou libéré?" by listening to the stories of the past and incorporating them into her own life, knowing that she will then pass them on to her daughter. Martine, it should be noted, communicated to her mother by use of cassettes, believing as a representative of her generation more in the reliability of the spoken word than that of the written one. Above all Sophie allows what is to be, knowing that while stories have shapes and forms their contents cannot be manipulated or predetermined, as exemplified in Martine's statement, "We come from a place … where in one instant, you can lose your father and all your other dreams" (p. 165). One particular proverb sums it up for Sophie: "Paròl gen pié zèl" ("Words give your feet wings" [p. 234]).

Sophie has no agenda that entails joining a political movement or fighting for a cause, which is not to say she lacks a rebellious streak. Rather, like the desperate boatpeople, she knows that freedom first of all demands survival and secondly the burning desire to repeat and fabricate life-sustaining stories. Creative narratology provides the means for a type of understanding that leads to other types of asymptotical awareness as one generation seeks to strengthen the next. As Myriam Chancy correctly states about this novel, "The language of the ancestors, which grows increasingly difficult to access, is the key to each woman's freedom."7 The survival of words through translation into an acceptable postcolonial idiom insures the survival of the race. Danticat's genius is that she has gone beyond the borders of Haiti, to the United States, where stories can be preserved on paper, published, and disseminated to a vast audience, an impossible task in a desolate country where a paper industry is just about non-existent since Haiti's mountains are almost denuded of trees. In effect, Danticat had done in her own way what Jean-Claude Bajeux sees as essential to Haiti's intellectual growth as a country: "Nou ta bezwen tou yo ranmase nan tout peyi a tout kont k ap sikile." More than any other writer I can think of, Danticat has advanced the feminist movement, at least from a Haitian perspective, not only by writing a novel that focuses on the transmission of traditional stories in a contemporary setting but by actually having them published by Random House in New York and thus made available globally, especially as Breath, Eyes, Memory has been translated into French and soon will be into Creole. In short, this novel has revolutionized Haitian literature by giving a new sense of empowerment to the feminist literary liberation movement there. Rather than being displaced, Danticat/Sophie live in two places at once, the byplay of which, like systole and diastole, feeds the creative imagination. Had Danticat written her novel in French, her major field of studies at Hunter College, she would have lost something of the immediacy and drama afforded only by one's own native language. And while the translation of a French text into English might have made the experience of reading this novel less authoritatively congenial, it might have assisted in its translation into Creole. As will happen, in any case, the fact that the Creole version will be based on both the original En- glish and the French translation provides linguistic safeguards that potentially allow suitable and approximate renderings of the original.

Danticat's novel provides transnational accessibility because of its publication in English and French; in the near future, educated Haitians—men and women—will be able to read the dramatic beauty of the story in Creole. And because of the American literary awards she has received (and undoubtedly will continue to receive), Danticat's publishers are willing to spend the necessary funds to promote her work, something that would be highly unlikely, nay impossible, if the novel had been written originally in Creole, which Danticat might not have been able to do in the first place, due in large measure to her lack of experience of writing in Creole, and less so if it had been written in French and published in France, precisely because of the novel's American-Haitian storyline. The publishing history of this novel and the markets to which it will be distributed—first to the Anglophone world, then to the Francophone world, and lastly to the Creoleophone world—facilitates a dramatic international crescendo of the question "Ou libéré?" Through transference and translation, Danticat has exported her story, and those who sympathize with Sophie's predicaments will be led back to her Haitian sisters and brothers who, because of the novel's anticipated translation into Creole, can evaluate its literary authenticity and build in their own ways on its heartfelt truths.

By reshaping the categories of feminism, power, liberation, resistance, culture, marriage, and identity, Danticat mediates the global in and through the local and vice versa, not by dramatizing paradigms but by locating unfolding stories between two specific cultures and by building up imaginative national alliances of transnational verisimilitude between them. The two-and-a-half-hour flight between JFK and l'Aéroport Maïs Gaté does not break down borders but facilitates the transport of one cultural heritage to another locale. Breath, Eyes, Memory, in effect, occurs in the inter-stices of two societies, their back-and-forth byplay; this accounts for the newness of what Danticat has discovered. She does not draw lines or delineate differences so much as she melds the essential dimensions of her specifically cultured-based artistic talents. In doing so, she has found a new land within herself that she can explore ("colonize" would not be the fitting word here), a land not unsimilar to what African Americans or Chinese Americans or Pakistani Americans have located.

To return to a Thoreauvian image, Danticat is not so much a sojourner—someone, as the French word séjourner implies—who can cover a particular area in one day—but a saunterer (from the French sainte terre)—someone who makes a pilgrimage from a particular country to the Holy Land, la sainte terre d'Haiti. Her repeated visits to this sacred place will not only bring to the surface what has been there for centuries but will prompt her to continue to create imaginative works of art, potentially yielding a plethora of cognate literary ventures.

Notes

1. Jean-Claude Bajeux, ed., Mosochwazi Pawòl Ki Ekri an Kreyòl Ayisyen: Anthologie de la Littérature Créole Haïtienne (Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Editions Antilia, 1999).

2. "We would need a good Creole dictionary that would indicate the origin of Creole words. We would likewise need to have a collection of [Haitian] stories that have circulated in the country. There are groups of people who remember these stories, but they have not yet written them out" (my translation).

3. "Self-Determining Haiti," Nation, 111 (August 28, 1920); "What the United States Has Accomplished," Nation, 111 (September 4, 1920); "Government of, by, and for the National City Bank," Nation, 111 (September 11, 1920); "The Haitian People," Nation, 111 (September 25, 1920).

4. More than any other works of fiction, Edwidge Danticat's collection of stories and two novels, Breath, Eyes, Memory (New York: Soho Press, 1994), Krik? Krak! (New York: Soho Press, 1995), and The Farming of Bones (New York: Soho Press, 1998), plus her first novel for young readers, Behind the Mountains (New York: Orchard Books, 2002), have brought, for the first time in history, fiction written by an indigenous Haitian into popular international prominence. In addition, an anthology she has edited, The Butterfly's Way: Voices From the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States (New York: Soho Press, 2001), and her lyrical travelogue-memoir entitled After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel (New York: Crown Publishers, 2002) allow us to look through both ends of the Haitian literary telescope: first, giving a larger picture of the origins of Haitian literature and how it has translated itself into a more cosmopolitan setting, and second, describing the life of a particular city as Danticat relates its carnivalesque landscape and mindscape. For her efforts, she has received a number of notable honors, from being an American Book Award finalist (1995) to receiving the Pushcart Short Story Prize (1995).

5. Interview, September 27, 2002. See also Danticat's interview with Rachel Holmes, "Legacy to Life" <http://www.haitiglobalvillage.com/sd-marassa1-cd/d-conversations.htm>.

6. For an interpretation of this Faulkner phrase see my essay "Addie's Continued Presence in As I Lay Dying," in Southern Literature and Literary Theory, ed. Jefferson Humphries (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990), pp. 284-299.

7. Myriam J. A. Chancy, Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997), p 121.

Amy Novak (essay date winter 2006)

SOURCE: Novak, Amy. "‘A Marred Testament’: Cultural Trauma and Narrative in Danticat's The Farming of Bones." Arizona Quarterly 62, no. 4 (winter 2006): 93-120.

[In the following essay, Novak examines Danticat's depiction of cultural trauma in The Farming of Bones, asserting that she attempts "to translate the silences of trauma through the shifting fragmentary voice of memory."]

It is perhaps the great discomfort of those trying to silence the world to discover that we have voices sealed inside our heads, voices that with each passing day, grow even louder than the clamor of the world outside.

The slaughter is the only thing that is mine enough to pass on. All I want to do is find a place to lay it down now and again, a safe nest where it will neither be scattered by the winds, nor remain forever buried beneath the sod.

          —Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones

Edwidge Danticat's 1998 novel, The Farming of Bones, confronts the paradoxical process of remembering and forgetting in the narration of individual and cultural trauma. The story tells of a young Haitian woman, Amabelle, living and working in the Dominican Republic at the time of the 1937 massacre of Haitian laborers known as El Corte. Barely escaping across the border into Haiti, Amabelle is beaten, separated from her fiancé, whom she never hears from again, and witness to the butcher of numerous other Haitians attempting to flee across the Massacre River. In the aftermath of the killing, this trauma is repeated at the symbolic level as its history goes mostly unrecorded by national and international leaders who see the Haitians as a faceless, ignorant labor force, not as subjects of history. In the act of this symbolic or cultural trauma, the story is repressed and silenced. And yet, as Amabelle indicates in the passage cited above, silence should not be equated with the lack or nonexistence of an event, for inside silence voices clamor to be heard; repression is not forgetting.

Narrating the experience of trauma so that it "will neither be scattered by the winds, nor remain forever buried beneath the sod," Danticat's novel probes the struggle to work through the past on both individual and national levels (266). However, as Barbara Chester, a psychiatrist experienced in treating victims of political torture, points out, these two different acts of working through, the personal and the public, are at times in conflict: "The need to remember, name, validate, grieve, and receive compensation for unjust suffering, for example, is opposed to the societal need to forget and put an end to both the past terror of repression and the future threat of renewed military takeover, should prosecution of war crimes occur" (241). While Amabelle's story centers around her personal struggle for survival in the aftermath of slaughter, the novel as a whole engages questions of how to construct larger cultural narratives of historical violence: How does the present listen to marginal voices in writing histories of national trauma? How do the silenced testify to trauma? With what voice and to whom?

Recounting the story of this genocidal execution, The Farming of Bones is situated at the intersection between recent novels of historical trauma and a renewed interest in trauma theory. Examining issues that confront contemporary societies as they grapple with how to narrate proliferating histories of ethnic prejudice and international slaughter, such novels illuminate the process of trauma as well as examine the ability of literature to represent or know trauma.1 The contemporary awareness of trauma, evident in this literature and in the growing field of trauma studies, comes from what Shoshana Felman identifies as a "crisis in witnessing": "our era [is] an age of testimony, an age in which witnessing itself has undergone a major trauma" (206).2 Such a characterization underscores how in the act of writing about catastrophic history a second trauma, a symbolic one, occurs. And this "collapse of witnessing" arises, so Felman argues, because of the witness's failure or inability to testify to and understand the traumatic event. The effort to narrate the supposed "unrepresentability" of trauma fragments and contorts the narrative movement in contemporary novels of historical trauma, such as in Danticat's The Farming of Bones (or Toni Morrison's Beloved, Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues, Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces or Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, to name a few). According to Cathy Caruth, a leading scholar in the field of trauma theory, "trauma opens up and challenges us to a new kind of listening, the witnessing, precisely, of impossibility" (Trauma 10). The necessarily experimental structures of these novels ask the reader to think about what it would mean for a cultural narrative to witness to the impossibility of trauma.

With its attempt to voice undocumented stories and to redress injustice by communicating on a personal level to its listener or reader, testimony and testimonial literature remain a powerful narrative form; however, Amabelle's narrative and Danticat's novel as a whole continue to be troubled by the problem of address for no one hears her story. So while Danticat conceives of her work as an act of memory, as an attempt to remember a forgotten history (Shea 21), The Farming of Bones undertakes this endeavor not by clarifying or rendering the past transparent, but instead by taking the more difficult route of attempting to translate the silences of trauma through the shifting, fragmentary voice of memory. In particular, both the story and narrative organization of The Farming of Bones suggest how closed, singular narrative structures might settle and pin down the past in ways that hide it. The novel unfolds through two narrative lines, a first-person account of the trauma and a collection of bold print fragments of memories or dreams, which weave together as point/counterpoint. Amabelle's first-person, linear testimony emphasizes the significance of testimony and witnessing, and yet the inclusion of the fragments, of what I call "spectral memory," disrupts her account, questioning this method of cultural historiography. Staging the contrast between voice and voicelessness, the ambiguity of the novel's narrative form urges readers to consider silence and to embrace the unsettling of what they might like to be authoritative. This essay investigates the place of narrative in the act of working through the past. Probing the novel's narrative structure, I argue that The Farming of Bones examines the past through what I call a spectral narrative economy that claims memory as a site of radical possibility. This narrative economy conceives of a model of historiography that embraces rather than denies the ambiguity and spectral nature of traumatic memory and demonstrates the necessity of doing so.

Recording Cultural Trauma

The massacre of Haitian immigrants recounted in The Farming of Bones occurs early in the thirty-one-year dictatorship of Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo. Trained and educated by US Marines during their occupation of the Dominican Republic from 1916-1924, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina rose from the rank of second lieutenant to head of the army in less than a decade. After President Horacio Vásquez was overthrown in 1930, Trujillo ran unopposed (due to coercion of his rivals) and was elected president. As the new leader of the Dominican Republic, he set out to eradicate opposition and to consolidate totalitarian control over the nation through physical and psychological means.3 The self-named "Era of Trujillo, Benefactor of the Fatherland" (Roorda 95) inaugurated an age of military build-up meant to secure national independence, a renewed foreign image, and "the whitening of the population to make it increasingly distinguishable from neighboring Haiti" (Wiarda 110). Ernesto Sagás, scholar of political science and Latin American specialist, reports that Trujillo's national myth "concocted the hitherto loose and unorganized ideas of antihaitianismo into a full-fledged ideology that perceived Haitians as inferior beings and enemies of the Dominican nation" (45). This acute nationalism fueled xenophobia and racism already existing in the Dominican Republic, leaving the darker, Creole-speaking Haitians open to attack.

Ongoing economic and political crises in Haiti brought thousands of workers across the border into the Dominican Republic. Some remained for generations, marrying Dominicans and raising their families. The political tensions of this period though had their roots in centuries of conflict between the two nations and were confounded by the dissimilarity of the two cultures residing in close proximity to one another: the Dominicans a predominantly mestizo, Spanish speaking, Catholic population, and the Haitians a largely black, Creole-speaking, Voodoo practicing people governed by a light skinned, French-speaking upper class. Thus, Dominican dictator Trujillo's scapegoating of the Haitian workers tapped into longstanding racism and prejudice directed against the poverty stricken Haitians. On the night of October 2, 1937, at a social event in his honor in Dajabón, the President spoke of his desire to eliminate his nation of this foreign contaminant. In the ensuing week, the Dominican army rounded up and butchered 12,000-25,000 Haitians, including those living in the country for years, those born there, and even Dominicans whose dark skin mis-identified them as Haitians (Hicks 112). Thousands of others escaped to Haiti after having witnessed the murder of their family and friends.

In the months that followed response to the massacre was limited. Roorda reports that while the event did initially garner international attention in such journals as The Nation, The New Republic, Collier's, and even Life magazine, ultimately the event was dismissed (127-43). In the name of Franklin Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor policy" and maintaining peace in the Western Hemisphere, the United States, as well as Haiti, allowed the butcher of the Haitian laborers to elude censure: "In the case of the Haitian massacre, Good Neighbor diplomacy meant not protesting the destruction of what one Dominican diplomat labeled as the ‘miserable proletariat’ of dark-skinned ‘pariahs’" (Roorda 141). Ultimately, Trujillo offered Haiti financial remuneration, which president Vincent accepted, but refused to acknowledge the massacre (Roorda 128). Instead, Sagás reports, Trujillo created a national myth about the threat of Haitian contamination to the order and security of the Dominican Republic to justify the massacre and, finally, expunge it from the historical register: "No docu- mentation with direct references to the massacre—before, during, or after it—has been found in Dominican archives" (47). The narration of this trauma in official histories of the Dominican Republic did not include a confrontation with or working through of the past, but instead entailed a justification of the event in order to consolidate Trujillo's faction authority. And while at the national level the victor's history omitted all reference to the event, at the international level acknowledgement and remembering of the event was veiled due to political expediency and an inability to recognize as one's own trauma the trauma of the other. Thus, a cultural or collective working through of the past as a path out of or away from trauma was passed over, abbreviated, or lacked self-critical rigor. A narrative was created that supported political and cultural hegemony, rather than one that sought out the voice of the silenced. And with no one to listen, this act of working through even in Haiti was forestalled. The event slipped from history, unspoken by the governments on both sides of the Massacre River.

The Farming of Bones examines the narrative methods available to a culture to tell of and work through trauma. Throughout the novel, in references to and representations of history-making, the text probes the political significance of how governments, historians and authors structure and compile narratives. The novel shows how, even before the massacre, Trujillo begins to mobilize the tools of official history: "‘Tradition shows as a fatal fact,’ the Generalissimo continued, ‘that under the protection of rivers, the enemies of peace, who are also the enemies of work and prosperity, found an ambush in which they might do their work, keeping the nation in fear and menacing stability’" (97). In this instance, Trujillo responds to the Dominican Republic's economic crisis by imagining a traumatic event. Although no actual violence has occurred, Trujillo reacts as if the people of the nation have been threatened, and in response he constructs a history that shores up national identity by excluding foreign elements, whether they be people or alternative versions of the past. This narrative model is common to what is often called "official history," meaning the singular, authoritative, and thus non-contradictory, story dispersed through the dominant cultural mediums and institutions of a community or nation. Appealing to "tradition" and evoking an image of the "enemies" of "the nation" who are out to "ambush" the security of "the nation," this official history deploys an exclusionary logic that pits light-skinned, peaceful Dominican against darker-skinned, contaminating Haitian. The expulsion and massacre of the Haitians demonstrate that history constructed along these lines contributes to racism, hatred, and oppression as it is motivated by a hierarchical and dualistic structure that must be defended even at the cost of violence. It does not so much record history as it calls upon the inflammatory, romantic rhetoric of an imagined past to solidify the fractured identity and symbolic order of the nation. Such a historiography is unlikely to accommodate the silence of traumatic experience, seeking, as it does, to support hegemonic cultural identity and power by drawing upon the known rather than delving into and probing the unreadable.

Not only is the novel skeptical about the exclusionary logic of official history, but also the motivation of such a record is questioned. How possible is it for such narratives to recount the horrors of a massacre experienced by those already positioned as enemies of the nation or as disenfranchised citizens? Exploring the response of both Dominican and Haitian governments to the massacre, Danticat's novel illustrates that the blindness of "official history" is found on both sides of the border. When Amabelle returns to Haiti, she finds the leaders of her own country complicit in the silencing of events: "In all this, our so-called president says nothing, our Papa Vincent—our poet—he says nothing at all to this affront to the children of Dessalines, the children of Toussaint, the children of Henry; he shouts nothing across this river of our blood" (212). The traumatic memories of the survivors are at odds with the economic and political interests of ruling elites and thus silence is heard instead of a call for justice. And in the wake of the violence, when the Haitian government does offer a space for victims to tell their stories, the novel contests the purpose of such depositions. Amabelle asks Yves why the government is listening to stories and giving out money: "‘To erase bad feelings,’ he said, as if he were no longer linked to the slaughter" (231). Yves' dispassionate statement exposes a significant point: the witnessing of the victims' testimonies will "erase bad feelings"—not the pain of the suffering, but the guilt of governments. Reflecting upon the efforts of the late twentieth century to confront and deal with a different traumatic past, that of National Socialism, philosopher and cultural critic Theodor Adorno critiques efforts to work through the past merely to forget: "In this usage ‘working through the past’ does not mean seriously working upon the past, that is through a lucid consciousness breaking its power to fascinate. On the contrary, its intention is to close the books on the past and, if possible, even remove it from memory" (89). The motivation for listening is not justice but forgetting. Danticat's novel shows how both governments appear to acknowledge the past, not in order to understand it but to prevent challenges to the social and political status quo.

Additionally, official narratives cannot accommodate this traumatic experience because without written documents or papers the historical gaze sees only absence. When Amabelle states her desire to give her testimony, Yves warns, "I don't know if you'll be given the money…. The authorities might try to keep it all for themselves. They ask you to bring papers. They ask you to bring proof" (231). An epistemology that grounds history only according to proof and facts—verifiable documents—is evidenced here. Amabelle and other survivors instead bring their bodies and their memories. Such testaments remain historically unreadable within a framework of knowledge whose scope of signification remains limited. Hence, the national narrative of the massacre does not bring accountability or justice, but turns away from it. These responses to the massacre foreground problems faced when historicizing cultural trauma: When those who write the history are the victors, how can the history of the slaughtered be heard? How can a nation or a culture work through a past event that they choose to not recognize or wish to forget? How to prevent historicizing, in the sense of recording and remembering an event, from entailing an act of erasure or forgetting encouraged by forces in social power? How does working through the past not become forgetting?

The Farming of Bones reveals significant obstacles in remembering or recording national trauma that must be examined when constructing and reading such cultural accounts. Both Trujillo's and Vincent's responses to the massacre show that what gets recorded is historically motivated. As Barbara Zelizer sums up:

Unlike personal memory, whose authority fades with time, the authority of collective memories increases as time passes, taking on new complications, nuances, and interests. Collective memories allow for the fabrication, rearrangement, elaboration, and omission of details about the past, often pushing aside accuracy and authenticity so as to accommodate broader issues of identity formation, power and authority, and political affiliation.

          (3)

Cultural trauma refers not only to an experiential crisis in the lives of some, if not all, of a nation or community, but also registers a disruption in the symbolic order. "Cultural trauma" becomes a metaphor for the damage or wounding to the complex system of representations and meanings that the society weaves around itself to record and understand the experience. The response to this breach in the collective fantasy that mediates the nation's identity and reality, then, is to garner the forces of cultural representation to position the event within a causal narrative that would redefine the community and restore its sense of agency.

Both Haitian and Dominican official accounts of the massacre illuminate how the narrative of cultural trauma, like the representation of any history, is not a transparent, objective record. Traumatic history foregrounds the way in which the real always eludes historicization. The politics of historical remembering are epitomized in a tourist guide's statement overheard by Amabelle: "‘Famous men never truly die,’ he added. ‘It is only those nameless and faceless who vanish like smoke into the early morning air’" (280). While the know world—its facts, figures, and evidence—are documented and remembered, history also performs a "vanishing" of those without names and faces. The official documents and records of Dominican and Haitian history become what Felman calls "anti-testimony" by performing "the extinction of the subject of the signature and … the objectification of the victim's voice" (276). These accounts mask the historical, subjective positioning of the historian and transform into a silent and invisible monument the very voice to which it supposedly witnesses.

The Materiality of Trauma

The difficulty in narrating historical traumas like the massacre of the Haitians grows out of the way such events break with frames of reference and as such cannot be situated easily within existing narrative structures. Current trauma theory, which draws heavily on nineteenth-and twentieth-century psychoanalytic theories, emphasizes trauma as a psychic wounding, an encounter of the mind with violence and the crisis of meaning. According to Caruth, trauma "brings us to the limits of our understanding" (Trauma 4). This characterization identifies trauma as a problem of signification, of knowledge, and thus a crisis or pathology of the psyche. In Unclaimed Experience, Caruth points out that although the Greek etymology of the English and German word trauma referred to a bodily wound, now "in its later usage, particularly in the medical and psychiatric literature, and most centrally in Freud's text, the term trauma is understood as a wound inflicted not upon the body but upon the mind" (3). This equating of trauma with psychic wounding is evident in Freud's early definition of traumatic neurosis as "the effects produced on the organ of the mind by the breach in the shield against stimuli and by the problems that follow in its train" (Beyond 31). Trauma is registered through an apparent forgetting that occurs because the mind is unable to absorb the shock of the traumatic event. The subject does not experience the trauma at the moment it occurs, but only belatedly as the psyche re-experiences the event through flashbacks and dreams. Freud states, "the patient cannot remember the whole of what is repressed in him, and what he cannot remember may be precisely the essential part of it…. He is obliged to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead of, as the physician would prefer to see, remembering it as something belonging to the past" (18). As such, trauma is constituted by the seemingly opposing forces of remembering and forgetting. Memory of the event, rather than a reflection of a distant past, comes back in ambiguous and fragmentary forms, causing traumatic symptoms to occur that disrupt and torment the present.

Consequently, the process of working through the past is supposed to conjure forth the event, make present prior incidents, in order to help the patient construct a narrative in which the memory of trauma is positioned firmly in the past. Freud states that the physician must get the patient to "re-experience some portion of his forgotten life, but must see to it, on the other hand, that the patient retains some degree of aloofness, which will enable him, in spite of everything to recognize that what appears to be reality is in fact only a reflection of a forgotten past" (Beyond 19). What is evident here I argue is a pathology of memory. According to the understanding of trauma as a wound to the mind, working through the traumatic past means confronting and placing in the past the experience that is forgotten, but that returns through the act of repetition. In this Freudian paradigm there is a distinction drawn between memory that "repeats" and memory that is "remembered," memory that reoccurs in the present and memory that simply belongs to the past. The former, what I call radical or "spectral memory," is found to be a sign of abnormality or illness, and thus the process of working through is either to return it to the past, or, as Freud's contemporary Pierre Janet proposes, for it to be "vanished" or "liquidated" (663). Breuer and Freud's famous diagnosis of traumatized hysterics posits that they "suffer mainly from reminiscences" (Studies 7). "Working through," then, would entail containing the memory within that closed off portion of a linear narrative designated as "past" so that it is forgotten and no longer torments.

Amabelle's testimony in The Farming of Bones witnesses to the physicality of trauma and suggests the need to rethink the very possibility of "working through" by demonstrating that the obstacle in comprehending the event is not simply a cognitive one. Her narrative attests to how trauma is inscribed not only on her body, but also in her body, producing a spectral memory that continues to haunt the present.4 Describing her body as "a map of scars and bruises, a marred testament," Amabelle anchors together the physical pain of her body with the act of testifying. It is her body that bears the record of the past, and the story it tells is not seamless but disfigured, flawed, even imperfect. When Amabelle comes to the climactic moment of the attack on Haitians in the Dominican border town of Dajabón, her testimony turns visceral:

A sharp blow to my side nearly stopped my breath. The pain was like a stab from a knife or an ice pick, but when I reached down I felt no blood. Rolling myself into a ball, I tried to get away from the worst of the kicking horde. I screamed, thinking I was going to die. My screams slowed them a bit. But after a while I had less and less strength with which to make a sound. My ears were ringing; I tried to cover my head with my hands. My whole body was numbing; I sensed the vibration of the blows, but no longer the pain. My mouth filled with blood.

          (194)

In the moment of violence she loses language and the ability to mentally register pain, and yet she still "senses the vibration of the blows." At the time, the physical assault escapes articulation, registering in screams on the border between silence and speech. The body's materiality, an excess uncontained by signification, is nonetheless evoked in the act of screaming, until this too is quashed by the body's pain. It is this painful physicality, which resists narrativization and knowing, that produces the "marred testament" of trauma.

The novel figures trauma through an economy of the body—the body experiencing trauma, the body remembering trauma, the body living trauma. Amabelle's description returns the body to the concept of trauma and in doing so suggests that what might be taken as an initial forgetting is instead an aporia in language created by the materiality of the body overwhelming the process of signification. Her testimony dispels ideas of trauma as "a wound inflicted not upon the body but upon the mind." This corporeal figuring reminds readers that the apparent element of latency in trauma is not because the event did not register, but because the body upon which it is written evades the narrow limits of language and representation. Amabelle describes how her "chipped and cracked teeth kept snapping against the mush of open flesh inside [her] mouth. All the pain of first being struck came back to [her]" (197). In the aftermath of violence, the text continues to locate the event of trauma in this liminal space between voice and voicelessness. Because of the state of her body, she is unable to express herself: "I tried to explain. I wanted to go to the fortaleza where I thought they might be holding Mimi and Sebastien. My words ran together, blurred and incomprehensible" (199). The body becomes the site of both enunciation and its absence. It is from this site that language originates and, in the case of trauma, that a wound arises that consumes language. The text emphasizes the body's place in signification, reminding that the psyche, commonly seen as the repository of physical feelings and senses, is not the transcendent entity of a degraded physicality, but is also itself always embodied. Thus, while Caruth and others might be accurate in formulating trauma as an experience that "brings us to the limits of our understanding," the assertion "that the impact of the traumatic event lies precisely in its belatedness, in its refusal to be simply located, in its insistent appearance outside the boundaries of any single place or time" shifts attention away from the (silent) materiality of trauma and emphasizes instead the cognitive framing and understanding of it (Trauma 4, 9).

The startling image of Amabelle's body as "a marred testament" of distorted evidence, vividly figures for the reader how remembering and forgetting, testimony and silence are simultaneously inscribed on her body. The material witnessing of the wounded body, which cannot or is not allowed to give testimony, generates an aporia—a fissure in meaning that reveals absence and produces doubt—in the nation's representation of the past. Both illuminating and concealing trauma, the body's silent testimony at once unsettles what the present or the nation knows about the event and draws them towards it. It is this physicality of trauma—markers on the flesh and wounded bodies—that encapsulates both the horror and fascination, the impulse to both turn away and to know. The survivors of the massacre, like Amabelle, confront the Dominican Republic and Haiti with a silent, but disruptive corporeal testimony that draws attention to a reality that has been buried and enciphered in the historical record. The spectral memories conjured by the scarred and tortured body produce a fissure in meaning that can't be filled, but that calls for comprehension.

The disfigurement of Amabelle's own body and those of others remind the present of a past that historical narratives have evaded. Walking the streets in Haiti, Amabelle finds the massacre called to mind again and again: "I strolled like a ghost through the waking life of the Cap, wondering whenever I saw people with deformities—anything from a broken nose to crippled legs—had they been there?" (243). These physical reminders raise once more the question of the unexamined past. Jacques Lacan, in his elucidation of Freud, theorizes trauma as a missed encounter with the real: "the function of the tuché, of the real as encounter—the encounter in so far as it may be missed, in so far as it is essentially the missed encounter—first presented itself in the history of psycho-analysis in a form that was in itself already enough to arouse our attention, that of the trauma" (55). In the return of the body to the testament of violence, the present is confronted again with the missed encounter of trauma, of what is in effect the real of history. Our relationship to the real Lacan proposes is always that of a "missed encounter" and this first became apparent in the context of trauma, as that which is "unassimilable" to the real (55). With the wounded body, the historical materiality of the real returns, confronting the present with a past that is unknowable and that escapes meaning, but that returns the present to the act of signification again and again. The scars of the past forged on Amabelle's body become a physical reminder of a history of violence and demonstrate the impossibility of forgetting. This apparition of the disfigured, injured body summons a spectral memory that unsettles understandings of the past as closed and over.

The novel's signification of violence according to an economy of the body moves beyond the division of mind and body that has predominated theories of trauma. The enduring silence of the body's pain questions what it would mean to work through the past. Toward the end of the novel, when Trujillo dies more than two decades after the massacre, Amabelle's body remains a living reminder of trauma:

There were times when I shut myself in those two rooms that were mine and took to bed for months, times when I had too much lint in my throat, or an aching arm that prevented me from sewing, when the joint of my knee would throb, and the ringing in my ears would chime without stop. Other than those moments, the Generalissimo's death was the only reprieve from my routine of sewing and sleeping and having the same dreams every night.

          (269, emphasis added)

The physical traces of violence occupy and shape her present. Every movement—activities as simple as walking, sewing, and talking—remind her of the massacre. In fact, this past possesses her and is a "reprieve" from the sameness of the present. The past is not simply written on her body but, as the insistent use of the preposition "in" and the description of pain within bones and joints suggest, it has penetrated her flesh. Crossing the line of the visible and the invisible, becoming internal, the past becomes an unverifiable document, but this undecideability does not remain settled. When each movement brings pain, the past can never become something simply remembered.

Amabelle's disfigured body draws the reader's attention to a gap through which they may glimpse the traumatic event even as it is missed. The spectral memories conjured by the wounded human form resist a working through the past via narrativization. Psychiatrist Dori Laub, whose work has centered around listening to the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, proposes that "to undo this entrapment in a fate that cannot be known, cannot be told, but can only be repeated, a therapeutic process—a process of constructing a narrative, of reconstructing a history and essentially of reexternalizating the event—has to be set in motion" (69). But in Amabelle's testimony the pain of the past has worked into her bones, into her very being, making the extraction of this physical reality difficult through a cognitive act. Such narrative working through, which for Laub entails the ability to "articulate and transmit the story, literally transfer it to another outside oneself and then take it back again, inside," is frustrated by the limits of language and the cultural frames of reference that are unable to signify the body's experiences (69). Instead, the (dis)figuring of her body, of this "marred testament," exposes the gap between the real and reality, between the missed encounter with trauma and the historical narrations of that event. And what one finds in this gap, which for Lacan is the gap of the unconscious, is "something of the order of the non-realized" and "of the unborn" (22-23).

Testimony and Narrating Cultural Trauma

Traditional relationships of narrative to history have changed through the historical necessity of involving literature in action, of creating a new form of narrative as testimony not merely to record, but to rethink and, in the act of its rethinking, in effect transform history.

          —Shoshana Felman, Testimony

The Farming of Bones probes what it would mean to narrate trauma in such a way as to glimpse those events and experiences that remain "unborn" in the narratives of history. Although the novel's economy of the body portrays traumatic testimony's fall into silence, The Farming of Bones as a whole does transmit Amabelle's account, giving voice to the silent past she cannot express or to which history will not listen. As such, the novel belongs to the contemporary genre of testimonial novels: fictional works that draw upon the form of the testimonio. Where the "official" national narrative of the past adheres to homogeneity and verifiability in its narration of history, testimonio writing is premised on the desire to unearth and to represent marginalized and silenced histories. Typically such works present a first-person, non-fiction account of the narrator's survival and witness to traumatic events and political oppression that affect not simply their own life but that of their community, culture, or nation.5 The narrator is often a member of a marginalized cultural group and as such the testimonio is frequently narrated to a writer or journalist who then composes the story aimed at an audience in the developed, so-called first world. Popularized in the 1960s and '70s, such writing responds to the silence of history to acts of oppression and violence and thus possesses an ethical call to justice. It appeals to readers, John Beverley maintains, through a process of identification "by engaging their standards of ethics and justice in a speech-act situation that requires response" (78).

Testimonial novels, like The Farming of Bones, aim to bear witness to actual historical events, but through the eyes of a fictional narrator, such as Amabelle. Unlike the non-fiction testimonio, which may mask the way that its story is mediated through a secondary witness who is recording and constructing it, Danticat's novel reminds the reader of its existence as a shaped, literary object. Danticat says that at moments in the novel, "I was purposely questioning myself and what I was doing—writing this story in English, stealing it, if you will, from the true survivors who were not able or allowed to tell their stories" (Shea 17-18). As a literary work, the reader must remember that choices and decisions have been made by an author, thus limiting what is seen and known. The fictional text becomes a means to examine not only the past event, but also the very act of narration, including the way that narrative selection (the choices made about what to include and in what order) shapes how and what we know of the past.

Danticat's novel problematizes the appeal and address of testimony, even as it is itself a testimony. In the wake of the violence, after the Haitian government's aborted taking of testimony, the priests adopt the role of external witness. Unlike the government's chronicle of the event, the testimonials recorded by the priests do seem to seek out alternative voices. The priests write down the stories for journalists, presumably foreign ones, but even these only occur as long as there is outside interest: "To all those who tell us of lost relations, we can offer nothing save for our prayers and perhaps a piece of bread. So we have stopped letting them tell us these terrible stories. It was taking all our time, and there is so much other work to be done" (254). This statement depicts the problem of address inherent in testimonial writing: it depends upon a willing and interested listener. The power of the testimonio exists only as long as it captures the imagination and interest of its audience, which is primarily an external world that may easily turn away, preoccupied by other matters. Contrary to Beverley's claim that the testimonio is "a fundamentally democratic and egalitarian form of narrative" (75), The Farming of Bones expresses the failure of testimonials if one is "nameless and faceless" (Danticat 280). The genre of political testimony, like official history, is built upon the foundation of the visibly, recognized subject. If those occupying institutions of power do not recognize the anonymous subjects of violence and trauma, then their history may be neither heard nor recorded.

The novel argues that the potential of testimony for social change is severely limited. Proposing that the testimonies written on the survivor's bodies are significantly compromised, April Shemak finds that "The Farming of Bones is far more ambivalent about the transformative or recuperative potential of testimonial narrative. It is significant that once she fully comes into her consciousness after returning to the Dominican Republic, Amabelle chooses not to tell her story" (106). According to my analysis, however, while the novel is ambivalent about the liberatory potential of individual testimony, Amabelle actually does choose to narrate her experience. In an interview published in 1999, Danticat states, "The goddess of this story is the Metrès Dlo, the female spirit of the river, to whom Amabelle dedicates and tells the story" (Shea 19). Referring to the dedication, Danticat's statement, when read alongside Amabelle's immersion in the river at the end of the novel, suggests that when she enters the river, she takes up the narrative that becomes her tale (the tale the reader is reading). After finding no one outside her community who will listen to or acknowledge her story, Amabelle—seeking someone else to bear her pain for a while—lies down and narrates it to the river. Still, while Amabelle may seek testimony as a means for working through the past, the silent address of this testimony asks the reader to rethink its larger cultural potential.

Amabelle's physical experience of trauma is reflected in the structure of the novel. Like her wounded body, the narrative before the reader is a scarred and haunted one. Working in counterpoint to the linear storyline that is Amabelle's first person testimonial of the massacre are the brief fragmentary sections that appear in bold print. Amabelle's eyewitness report focuses on the world of public events; it is also linear and, even if skipping over years, causal. Her testimonial is all recounted in the past tense. Told from some present moment, it looks back upon events that are now behind her. This portion of the narrative concludes the text, leaving Amabelle lying in the river "looking for the dawn" (310). In contrast, the bold print sections of the text are more difficult to understand. These sections are told in present tense, but possess an atemporal quality, as if they have been cut loose of the ties that bind them to a linear narrative. They are comprised of dreams and memories of Amabelle's missing lover and dead parents, and they demonstrate, Danticat says, "that these are people with interior lives" (qtd. in Francis 170). In other words, they provide a textual performance of a silent discourse, a literary representation of the unsaid. With the tension created between these passages and the primary narrative line, the novel does not simply recount the traumatic event that would resist representation anyway; rather, as Laub proposes, "knowledge in the testimony is … not simply a factual given that is reproduced and replicated by the testifier, but a genuine event in its own right" (62). Narrated in the present tense these isolated, voiceless fragments of the past disrupt Amabelle's account of the massacre and produce a traumatized text. They stage or rather repeat again a trauma that Amabelle's testimony and the novel conceal and illuminate, drawing the reader's attention to what remains hidden and unseen.

As Amabelle's linear narrative seeks to put the past in order, the memories in the bold print sections—by entering the novel and making the past present—demonstrate the impossibility of doing so by entering the novel and making the past present. If the novel is read as a narrative act begun by Amabelle at the end of the linear narrative when she enters the river, then the story does not lead to closure of the past. Rather, the narrative act is ongoing: arriving at the end the reader arrives back at the beginning. The present tense narration of these sections contributes to this reading. This present tense unhinges these fragments from time. When reading them one gets the sense that they are reoccurring and that what one is reading is an act of haunting. For example, after the invocation to "Metrès Dlo, Mother of the Rivers," the novel opens in the following manner:

His name is Sebastien Onius.

He comes most nights to put an end to my nightmare, the one I have all the time, of my parents drowning.

          (1)

There is no clear sense here of when Sebastien Onius comes to her, for while he physically came to her room at Señora Valencia's in the days before the massacre, it is clear also that he still comes to her in memories and in dreams in the many years afterwards: "Sometimes I can make myself dream him out of the void to listen" (282). These fragments of traumatic dreams and memories undercut the sense of telos in the novel, shaping its cultural narrative of remembrance as ongoing rather than closed and over.

The first five fragments all directly discuss the dead—Sebastien, Amabelle's parents, Sebastien's father. These sections are filled with grief and loss, and yet through them these people live again, at least textually. While the primary testimonial storyline recounts Señora Valencia giving birth to her children, the early death of one, and the building up of tensions in the Dominican Republic, the bold print sections tell another story of joy, intimacy, and family life, now all lost. Just as the traumatic experience of Amabelle's body remains at times beneath the level of signification, so too these "spectral memories" are entombed within her testimony of the massacre, their meaning not fully manifest. As a result, the novel presents not simply a linear narrative, but a layered one as well. If Amabelle's testimonial represents the historicizing impulse—it is told within the language of the symbolic order and seeks to make the event part of public history—then the bold print sections are what do not register within that signifying order. This narrative economy can be further explored by considering Abraham and Torok's theory of incorporation, which they conceive as one (pathological) response to trauma and loss. The act of incorporation refuses mourning. Unlike "introjection," which performs a "broadening of the ego" (112) that works through the past by adoption of the event and transformation of the psychological landscape, incorporation "erects a secret tomb inside the subject. Reconstituted from the memories of words, scenes, and affects, the objectal correlative of the loss is buried alive in the crypt as a full-fledged person, complete with its own topography…. A whole world of unconscious fantasy is created, one that leads its own separate and concealed existence" (130). The "spectral memory" of the bold print fragments appears buried within the testimonial that the novel allows Amabelle to narrate. They represent an unconscious language that the symbolic order of the novel and of history cannot fully signify.

This psychological model is productive for a discussion of traumatic narratology in that it depicts how a narrative (either a literary or historical one) may be created so as to hide a wound that would disrupt its very foundations. As Abraham and Torok point out, "the goal of this type of construction is to disguise the wound because it is unspeakable, because to state it openly would prove fatal to the entire topography" (142). This "unborn" or "non-realized" history, in its very status as unconscious, threatens the rest of the text's drive to signification. In this way, the symbolic order of the novel and of history shapes Amabelle's testimony. Her story is not unmediated, but shaped by preexisting frameworks of meaning. However, by including these fragmentary sections, the novel reminds the reader of how an unheard history accompanies any traumatic discourse, vibrating just below the level of signification.

The mourning and loss of the narrative fragments testify not to the events narrated in Amabelle's testimony, but to a deeper, unspoken trauma. Rather than order and contain the traumatic memories so that they are "remembered" instead of "repeating," the narrative unleashes them, refuses to narrativize them. In one segment that appears shortly before narration of the massacre in the testimonial, Amabelle dreams of the sugar woman: a woman "dressed in a long, three-tiered ruffled gown inflated like a balloon. Around her face, she wears a shiny silver muzzle, and on her neck there is a collar with a clasped lock dangling from it" and as she moves "the chains on her ankles cymbal a rattled melody" (132). When asked why she is there, this woman, a figure out of the slave past of Haiti, speaks the same words to Amabelle that she dreams her mother says, "You, my eternity" (133). Who exactly this woman represents—an anonymous slave woman, a manifestation of the vodou lwa Ezili, Amabelle's mother—is never identified, but what is evoked is a history of trauma and loss.6 This figure establishes a connection between the traumatic past, Amabelle's present, and their "eternity" or future. Immediately following this image, the linear narrative continues with the Dominicans preparing themselves for attack/defense. Amabelle barely misses being hit by a stray bullet as her mistress and master, Valencia and Pico, take target practice. If, as Walter Benjamin attests, the past lays claim to the present—then how might the relationship between these two moments be read?7 The dream of the sugar woman reminds readers that the present violence has its roots in past trauma. The narrative economy of the novel asks us not to understand the events of Trujillo and the Dominicans in isolation, but within a context of centuries of racism, colonization and prejudice.

The narrative of The Farming of Bones creates a point/counterpoint pattern between the testimonial of the massacre and the spectral fragments of other violent pasts. This narrative economy illustrates how the Dominican desire to eradicate the Haitians belongs to the same dynamics of repression as the poverty and border policing that led Amabelle's parents years earlier to cross into the Dominican Republic illegally by wading the Massacre River (a dangerous crossing where the young Amabelle sees them drown). Nor is it apart from the poverty that sends other Haitians illegally into the Dominican Republic looking for work. In the fragment following the appearance of the sugar woman, Amabelle dreams of dust storms and remembers her parents walking with her: "I see my mother and father and myself. I am with them, a child who still must hold a hand to walk, a child who must look up to talk, to see all the faces. After the storm has cleared, I find myself with my hands raised up, in motionless prayer, as though some invisible giants were guiding me forward" (139). This last section before the start of the massacre invokes the looming darkness of a coming storm and the lingering figures of her drowned parents who lead Amabelle forward. Alone, this brief half-page fragment introduces a spectral textuality that lingers in the minds of readers as they resume reading the narrative of the massacre. The passage cannot be situated firmly or interpreted definitively; instead, it recalls the past, placing pressure on the reader's interpretation of present events, as if the dead are there, too, in the scene with Amabelle as she is drawn into the violence. This narrative economy demonstrates that the exclusionary logic of the border and the poverty that denies the Haitians political agency and a life in their own country are directly connected to the Dominicans' view of the laborers as a contaminating element that is unable to resist their attacks.

While Amabelle recounts her story, the novel's narrative schools the reader in understanding testimony not just within a framework of what is visible and known, but in relation to voicelessness and absence. The bold print sections appear as wounds in the narrative, drawing the reader's attention to a disruptive silence that cannot be ignored. Repeated imagery throughout the narrative emphasizes the meaningfulness of sound that doesn't quite communicate, of a voice that tries to speak: pigeons whose "moan is the same way ghosts cry when they are too lonely or too sad, when they have been dead so long that they have forgotten how to speak their own names" (25) or "a laugh out of sadness, a sadness that made the laughter deeper and louder still, like the echo of a scream from the bottom of a well" (224). In each case a silence is attached to speech, an "echo" that shadows signification. This "echoing" is mirrored in the narrative economy with the bold sections repeating events and phrases found in the "voiced" linear narrative. Such textual wounds in this narrative of the past threaten the very possibility of historical discourse. They evoke experiences and events that official narrative and its epistemology, grounded in causality, progress, and evidence, cannot contain. This traumatic or "spectral" memory—memory that "repeats" rather than is merely "remembered"—becomes not simply a pathology, but in the novel's cultural narrative of trauma is itself the site of an impossibility from which historical understanding might begin.

Staging the necessity of listening, impossibly, for silence in the play between the bold print sections and the linear narrative, the novel structures the present's relationship to the traumatic past according to a spectral narrative economy, one that produces an understanding of the past in the play of meaning between the radical memory of trauma that resists narration and the closed linear narrative of events. To speak of the narrative economy in the context of the novel is to examine the production of meaning. To contemplate this as a process of exchange rather than a static structure is to consider how the trajectory of the text through an exchange of fragments, plotlines, and representations generates meaning. This plotting denies the work full pres- ence, and, as the text moves forward, what the reader knows and understands is constantly submitted to silence, to the loss of meaning before further events and segments are introduced and with them another frail and partial understanding of the past.

* * *

The Farming of Bones seeks in fiction to find a path to witnessing other than through official history within which it is not structurally possible to witness the ambiguity and fragmentary experience of cultural trauma. The novel's experiments with narrative form depict for the reader the urgency of seeking out and listening to "spectral memory." Such a conjuring of the past is necessary because too often the cultural "working through" has abbreviated the process of listening to trauma in favor of pinning down its meaning through narrativization. While Amabelle's story offers testimony to the traumatic event, the construction of the novel introduces silence and ambiguity into the text with the bold print sections that interrupt her linear narrative. Amabelle tells her story so as to offer witness of her memories and to relieve the pressure of this past; however, the novel's act of cultural narration resists simple testimony for unsettling ambiguity and in doing so situates Amabelle's experiences within a larger history of multiple stories, repeated traumas, and lingering silences.

The spectral narrative economy of the text insists upon the necessity of memory's radical power to rupture official or closed narratives by returning before the eyes of the present an indecipherable past. This narrative movement that weaves Amabelle's personal memories together with a more conventional narrative of the past, emphasizing linearity, causality, and the larger world of historical events, presents a traumatic narratology that listens for the uncertainty of memory. The narrative economy of The Farming of Bones does not simply give testimony to the massacre of Haitian laborers in 1937, but explores the historiographic impulse upon which testimonial literature is founded. In doing so, the narrative organization asks the reader to see the massacre as one symptom of a deeper, longer lasting trauma of race and violence with roots in the history of slavery in the Western hemisphere. The novel's demand that the present trauma be read together with the silences of past traumas is emphasized in the repeated references to King Henri Christophe, the former slave who became king of Haiti in 1804.8 This motif evokes a legacy of slavery and revolution that continues to haunt and shape the cultural consciousness and identity of Haiti: "I could almost hear the king giving orders to tired ghosts who had to remind him that it was a different time—a different century—and that we had become a different people" (46). The unconscious language of Amabelle's dreams and memories in the bold print sections draw attention to this other spectral history circulating throughout the novel. The specter of this past reminds us that Haiti's isolated international status and economic poverty in the twentieth century rises out of its history centuries before when the Haitian revolution cut it off from its European colonizer and made it an anathema in the Western hemisphere where other slaveholding cultures feared its successful slave revolt would be contagious.

In questioning the political efficacy of testimony and testimonial literature, its ability to bring about social change, The Farming of Bones does not celebrate silence as possessing some enviable epistemological privilege. Instead, the novel asks the reader, the citizen, and the historian to seek significance in silence. The literary text does not presume to provide unmediated access to the traumatic past, but rather, drawing upon Lacan, I argue that the novel's bold print spectral memories "awaken" the reader to trauma even as they conceal it. Exploring the process of working through, Lacan rereads Freud's analysis of the father's dream of the burning boy.9 Where Freud finds in the father's dream of his dead child calling out to him that he is burning a testament to how dreams serve as wish fulfillment, Lacan locates evidence of how the dream, as evasion of trauma (of the child's death), also awakens the father to trauma again (the child's death and his burning). It is from within the dream that the father is awoken once more to the missed encounter with the real: "But the terrible vision of the dead son taking the father by the arm designates a beyond that makes itself heard in the dream" (59). The narrative economy of Danticat's novel points outside what is known, to "the dead whose absence trailed us as did the dust of their bones in the wind" (271). Such a process for encountering trauma draws the reader towards silence, to what cannot be accommodated or contained within the system of meaning that organizes historical discourse and its literary representations.

Danticat's narrative of remembering resists closure and forgetting; it refuses to allow the spectral memory of trauma to be rendered a static object of the past, fully known and forgettable. Examining the relationship between testimony and history, Felman argues that "history is used for the purpose of a historical (ongoing) process of forgetting which, ironically enough, includes the gestures of historiography. Historiography is as much the product of the passion of forgetting as it is the product of the passion of remembering" (214). Instead, The Farming of Bones stages for the reader the act of listening for the unheard, allowing the past to remain open. This textual economy is figured within the story when Amabelle says, "the dead who have no use for their words leave them as part of their children's inheritance. Proverbs, teeth suckings, obscenities, even grunts and moans once inserted in special places during conversations, all are passed along to the next heir" (265-66). The ambiguity and lost record of the past is passed on in the breath between words and the gaps in narration. To identify this spectral narrative economy as inscribing absence within the narrative is to articulate the way in which the traumatic past introduces events and memory that don't fully register at the level of discursive signification or whose meaning exceeds signification, but which nonetheless linger on. Jacques Derrida reflecting on the work of George Bataille articulates the ethical necessity of silence: "We must find a speech which maintains silence. Necessity of the impossible: to say in language—the language of servility—that which is not servile" (262). The fragments of narration that are inserted within the novel make up just such a narrative language, not to encourage silence, but to reveal it in an effort of looking beyond the visible, the heard, the known. The bold print sections of the novel say in the language of narration that which defies narration. They evoke, in the only language available, the undecideability and ambiguity of trauma that disrupts official narratives and ideologies. The cultural narrative of trauma that the novel presents insists upon engaging the disruptive fragments of spectral memory, for only by seeking out what cannot be contained will an expanded understanding of traumatic events be sought. The reading of such a history repudiates the arbitrary closure of narrative; it requires that the reader not persist in erasing contradictions and complications.

Unlike much discourse about historicizing trauma, The Farming of Bones neither pathologizes memory nor attempts to construct a cultural site of commemoration that replaces the radical work of memory with the amnesia of "official" memorializing. The increased presence of violence and historical crises in many peoples' lives around the world is reflected in this growing body of literature considering the narration of cultural trauma. Novels like Danticat's examine the act of historical representation and confront reading practices that are still informed by principles of exclusion and closure. Susan Suleiman, in her short address "Reflections on Memory at the Millennium," speaks to the issue of how to approach the past: "a productive engagement with the past involves not a fixated stare at a ‘single catastrophe’ but the possibility of blinking—forgetting, anticipating, erring, revising" (vi). This vision of history complicates the idea of testimony, which connotes the singularity of truth, evidence, and proof. While the present may desire a single meaning or interpretation of a traumatic event, the spectral narrative economy of Danticat's novel suggests the impossibility of such a cultural narrative cure. Instead, the unsettling nature of traumatic memory directs attention to the silent spaces in the historical record for inside silence are voices waiting to be heard.

Notes

1. Growing out of traditions of ethnic and postcolonial writing, contemporary novels of historical trauma explore events from the margins of history and probe politics of power and cultural hegemony. In addition to Edwidge Danticat, my own research in this diverse field has been informed by the work of such authors as Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ariel Dorfman, Caryl Phillips, Julia Alvarez, Pat Barker, J. M. Coetzee, and Tim O'Brien.

2. Felman asserts that this current "crisis in witnessing" arose as a result of the unique nature of the Holocaust, which sought to prevent the very possibility of a witness. She then applies her argument more generally to the contemporary state of testimony and witnessing as a result of the lingering significance of that event. This world-shattering atrocity recast the present's historical gaze, reframing cultural trauma and terror both before and since. As such, the study of the Holocaust has contributed to the emerging field of trauma studies, which has also drawn on the psychiatric treatment of trauma survivors and new paradigms for approaching the past that have developed out of ethnic and postcolonial studies.

3. For a more extensive discussion of Trujillo's deployment of political, repressive, and symbolic means to preserve his autocratic position see Roorda, "Chapter Four: What will the Neighbors Think? Dictatorship and Diplomacy in the Public Eye" (88-126).

4. Pierre Janet formulates "traumatic memory" as a "fixed idea of a happening" (663) that resists narration in contrast to "memory," which "is the action of telling a story" (661). This popular understanding of "traumatic memory" as "fixed" can be found in the work of Caruth, Laub, and Van Der Kolk (for instance, see their research in Caruth's Trauma). Leading memory researcher and Harvard professor of psychology Schacter asserts that such memories are also "subject to decay and distortion": "that memories are not simply activated pictures in the mind but complex constructions built from multiple contributors—also applies to emotionally traumatic memories" (209). I agree that traumatic memory is neither static nor unchanging; instead, such memory is what unsettles and makes ambiguous the understanding of the past.

5. Some well-known examples of testimonial literature are: Menchu, Cabezas, Timerman, and Barrios de Chungara. For critical discussions of testimonial literature, see Beverley, and Gugelberger.

6. For a further consideration of the place of this lwa in Haitian women's lives, see Brown's chapter on Ezili (220-57).

7. Benjamin writes, "The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that pre- ceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply" (254). In the context of Danticat's novel, I read this passage as articulating the demand that the lost, destroyed, or forgotten past places upon the present to redeem it in the text of history.

8. The Haitian revolution was ignited by a slave uprising in 1791. In the struggle that followed, François Toussaint L'Ouverture organized and led rebel slaves in a battle for freedom and Haitian independence from France. After L'Ouverture was captured and sent to France, Jean Jacques Dessalines led the Haitians to victory against Napoleon's armies in 1804, making Haiti the first black independent nation in the Western hemisphere. Dessalines declared himself emperor for life, but was overthrown in 1807 when Henri became first president and then king (in 1811) of the northern section of Haiti. For further discussion of the Haitian slave revolt and revolution, see James, and Dubois.

9. The dream, told to Freud by a woman who heard it recounted at a lecture, belongs to a father whose son has just died. Leaving an old man to watch over the son's body, the father lays down in a nearby room to sleep. After a while he dreams of the dead son who comes to him and says, "Father, don't you see I'm burning." The startled father awakens to find that a candle has fallen on his son and burnt one of his arms (Interpretation 547-50).

Works Cited

Abraham, Nicolas and Maria Torok. The Shell and the Kernel: Renewals of Psychoanalysis. Vol. 1. Ed. and Trans. Nicholas T. Rand. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Adorno, Theodor W. "The Meaning of Working Through the Past." Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords. Trans. Henry W. Pickford. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. 89-103.

Barrios de Chungara, Domitila, with Moema Viezzer. Let Me Speak: Testimony of Domitila, A Woman of the Bolivian Mines. New York, Monthly Review Press, 1978.

Benjamin, Walter. "Theses on the Philosophy of History." Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. 253-67.

Beverley, John. Against Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Breuer, Josef and Sigmund Freud. Studies on Hysteria. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Basic Books, 1957.

Brown, Karen McCarthy. Mama Lola: A Voudou Priestess in Brooklyn. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Cabezas, Omar. Fire from the Mountain: The Making of a Sandinista. New York: Random House, 1985.

Caruth, Cathy, ed. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

———. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Chester, Barbara. "‘That Which Does Not Destroy Me’: Treating Survivors of Political Torture." Handbook of Post-Traumatic Therapy. Ed. Mary Beth Williams and John F. Sommer Jr. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. 240-51.

Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. New York: Penguin, 1998.

Derrida, Jacques. "From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve." Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. 251-77.

Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World. Cambridge: Belknap-Harvard University Press, 2004.

Felman, Shoshana. "The Return of the Voice: Claude Lanzman's Shoah." Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. Ed. Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, M.D. New York: Routledge, 1992. 204-83.

Francis, Donnette A. "Unsilencing the Past: Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones." Small Axe 5 (1999): 168-75.

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. and Trans. James Strachey. Vol. 18. New York: Hogarth, 1953-74. 7-64.

———. The Interpretation of Dreams. Ed. and Trans. James Strachey. New York: Avon, 1965.

Gugelberger, George M., ed. The "Real" Thing: Testimonial Discourse and Latin America. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.

Hicks, Albert C. Blood in the Streets: The Life and Rule of Trujillo. New York: Creative Age Press, 1946.

James, C. L. R. The Black Jacobins. New York: Vintage, 1989.

Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. New York: Norton, 1973.

Laub, Dori. M.D. "Bearing Witness, of the Vicissitudes of Listening." Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. Ed. Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, M.D. New York: Routledge, 1992. 57-74.

Menchu. Rigoberto. I, Rigoberto Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Ed. Elizabeth Burgos-Debray. London: Verso, 1984.

Pierre, Janet. Psychological Healing. Vol. 1. Trans. Eden and Cedar Paul. New York: MacMillan, 1925.

Roorda, Eric Paul. The Dictator Next Door: The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1940-1945. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.

Ságas, Ernesto. Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.

Schacter, Daniel L. Searching for Memory: the Brain, the Mind, and the Past. New York, Basic Books, 1996.

Shea, Renée H. "‘The Hunger to Tell’: Edwidge Danticat and The Farming of Bones." MaComère 2 (1999): 12-22.

Shemak, April. "Re-Membering Hispaniola: Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones." Modern Fiction Studies. 48.1 (2002): 83-112.

Suleiman, Susan Rubin. "Reflections on Memory at the Millennium" Comparative Literature 51.3 (1999): v-xiii.

Timerman, Jacobo. Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

Wiarda, Howard J. Dictatorship and Development: The Methods of Control in Trujillo's Dominican Republic. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1968.

Zelizer, Barbie. Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera's Eye. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

FURTHER READING

Criticism

Cowart, David. "Haitian Persephone: Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory." In Trailing Clouds: Immigrant Fiction in Contemporary America, pp. 126-37. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2006.

Contends that Danticat portrays the immigrant characters of Sophie and Martine as "Haitian Persephones," or characters caught between two worlds.

Danticat, Edwidge, and Sarah Anne Johnson. "You Have to Live Your Characters' Lives with Them." In The Very Telling: Conversations with American Writers, edited by Sarah Anne Johnson, pp. 16-28. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2006.

Danticat discusses her origins as a professional writer, the role of autobiography in her work, and the importance of storytelling in the Haitian culture in an interview with Johnson.

McCormick, Robert H. Review of After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti, by Edwidge Danticat. World Literature Today 77, nos. 3-4 (October-December 2003): 88-9.

Mixed review of After the Dance.

———. Review of The Dew Breaker, by Edwidge Danticat. World Literature Today 79, no. 1 (January-April 2005): 83-4.

Outlines the strengths and weaknesses of The Dew Breaker.

Strehle, Susan. "History and the End of Romance: Danticat's The Farming of Bones." In Doubled Plots: Romance and History, edited by Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden, pp. 24-44. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003.

Maintains that The Farming of Bones "is neither a romantic history nor a historical romance, but rather a new form created at the intersection of history and romance, calling the ideological assumptions of both genres into question and transforming them both in the process."

Additional coverage of Danticat's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 29; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 152, 192, 228; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 73, 129; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 94, 139, 228; Contemporary Novelists, Ed. 7; Exploring Short Stories; Literature and Its Times Supplement, Ed. 1:2; Literature of Developing Nations for Students, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Ed. 2; Major 21st-Century Writers, (e-book) 2005; Short Stories for Students, Vol. 1; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 100; and St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers.

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Danticat, Edwidge 1969–

Danticat, Edwidge 1969–

PERSONAL:

Name is pronounced "Ed-weedj Dan-ti-kah"; born January 19, 1969, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; immigrated to the United States, 1981; daughter of André Miracin (a cab driver) and Rose Souvenance (a textile worker) Danticat; children: Mira. Ethnicity: "Black." Education: Barnard College, B.A. 1990; Brown University, M.F.A., 1993.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Miami, FL.

CAREER:

Writer. Clinica Estetico (filmmakers), New York, NY, production and research assistant, 1993-94; writer, educator, and lecturer, 1994—. New York University, professor, 1996-97; University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, visiting professor of creative writing, spring, 2000.

MEMBER:

Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

AWARDS, HONORS:

National Book Award finalist, 1995, for Krik? Krak!, finalist, 2007, for Brother, I'm Dying; Lannan Foundation Fellowship, 2004; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2004, and PEN/Faulkner Award nomination, 2005, both for The Dew Breaker; Pushcart Prize for short fiction; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, for The Farming of Bones; fiction awards from periodicals, including Caribbean Writer, Seventeen, and Essence.

WRITINGS:

The Creation of Adam (play), produced in Providence, RI, 1992.

Dreams like Me (play), produced in Providence, RI, at Brown University New Plays Festival, 1993.

Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel), Soho Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Krik? Krak! (short stories), Soho Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Children of the Sea (play), produced in Roxbury Crossing, MA, at Roxbury Community College, 1997.

The Farming of Bones (novel), Soho Press (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Jonathan Demme) Odillon Pierre, Artist of Haiti, Kaliko Press (Nyack, NY), 1999.

(Editor) The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2000.

(Editor) The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2001.

(Translator and author of afterword, with Carrol F. Coates) Jackes Stephen Alexis, In the Flicker of an Eyelid (novel), University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2002.

After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Haiti, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2002.

Behind the Mountains (novel), Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Dew Breaker (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.

Anacaona, Golden Flower: Haiti, 1490 (juvenile novel), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.

Brother, I'm Dying (memoir), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Fiction writer Edwidge Danticat conjures the history of her native Haiti in award-winning short stories and novels. She is equally at home describing the immigrant experience—what she calls "dyaspora"—and the reality of life in Haiti today. Danticat's fiction "has been devoted to an unflinching examination of her native culture, both on its own terms and in terms of its intersections with American culture," wrote an essayist in Contemporary Novelists. "Danticat's work emphasizes in particular the heroism and endurance of Haitian women as they cope with a patriarchal culture that, in its unswerving devotion to tradition and family, both oppresses and enriches them." Readers will find "massacres, rapes, [and] horrible nightmares in Danticat's fiction," wrote an essayist in the St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, "but above all these are the strength, hope, and joy of her poetic vision."

Danticat's first novel, the loosely autobiographical Breath, Eyes, Memory, was a 1998 selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, thus assuring its best-seller status. Other Danticat works have won warm praise as well, with some critics expressing surprise that such assured prose has come from an author so young. Antioch Review correspondent Grace A. Epstein praised Danticat for "the real courage … in excavating the romance of nationalism, identity, and home." Time reporter Christopher John Farley likewise concluded that Danticat's fiction "never turns purple, never spins wildly into the fantastic, always remains focused, with precise disciplined language, and in doing so, it uncovers moments of raw humanness."

Danticat was born in Haiti and lived there the first twelve years of her life. She came to the United States in 1981, joining her parents who had already begun to build a life for themselves in New York City. When she started attending junior high classes in Brooklyn, she had difficulty fitting in with her classmates because of her Haitian accent, clothing, and hairstyle. Danticat recalled for Garry Pierre-Pierre in the New York Times that she took refuge from the isolation she felt in writing about her native land. As an adolescent she began work on what would evolve into her first novel, the acclaimed Breath, Eyes, Memory. Danticat followed her debut with a collection of short stories, Krik? Krak!, which became a finalist for that year's National Book Award. According to Pierre-Pierre, the young author has been heralded as "‘the voice’ of Haitian-Americans," but Danticat told him, "I think I have been assigned that role, but I don't really see myself as the voice for the Haitian-American experience. There are many. I'm just one."

Danticat's parents wanted her to pursue a career in medicine, and with the goal of becoming a nurse, she attended a specialized high school in New York City. But she abandoned this aim to devote herself to her writing. An earlier version of Breath, Eyes, Memory served as her master of fine arts thesis at Brown University, and the finished version was published shortly thereafter. Like Danticat herself, Sophie Caco—the novel's protagonist—spent her first twelve years in Haiti, several in the care of an aunt, before coming wide-eyed to the United States. But there the similarities end. Sophie is the child of a single mother, conceived by rape. Though she rejoins her mother in the United States, it is too late to save the still-traumatized older woman from self-destruction. Yet women's ties to women are celebrated in the novel, and Sophie draws strength from her mother, her aunt, and herself in order to escape her mother's fate.

Breath, Eyes, Memory caused some controversy in the Haitian American community. Some of Danticat's fellow Haitians did not approve of her writing of the practice of "testing" in the novel. In the story, female virginity is highly prized by Sophie's family, and Sophie's aunt "tests" to see whether Sophie's hymen is intact by inserting her fingers into the girl's vagina. Haitian-American women, some of whom had never heard of or participated in this practice, felt that Danticat's inclusion of it portrayed them as primitive and abusive. American critics, however, appreciated Breath, Eyes, Memory. Joan Philpott, writing in Ms., described the book as "intensely lyrical." Pierre-Pierre reported that reviewers "have praised Ms. Danticat's vivid sense of place and her images of fear and pain." Jim Gladstone concluded in the New York Times Book Review that the novel "achieves an emotional complexity that lifts it out of the realm of the potboiler and into that of poetry." And Bob Shacochis, in his Washington Post Book World review, called the work "a novel that rewards a reader again and again with small but exquisite and unforgettable epiphanies." Shacochis added, "You can actually see Danticat grow and mature, come into her own strength as a writer, throughout the course of this quiet, soul-penetrating story about four generations of women trying to hold on to one another in the Haitian diaspora."

Krik? Krak! takes its title from the practice of Haitian storytellers. Danticat told Deborah Gregory of Essence that storytelling is a favorite entertainment in Haiti, and a storyteller inquires of his or her audience, "Krik?" to ask if they are ready to listen. The group then replies with an enthusiastic, "Krak!" The tales in this collection include one about a man attempting to flee Haiti in a leaky boat, another about a prostitute who tells her son that the reason she dresses up every night is that she is expecting an angel to descend upon their house, and yet another explores the feelings of a childless housekeeper in a loveless marriage who finds an abandoned baby in the streets. New York Times Book Review contributor Robert Houston, citing the fact that some of the stories in Krik? Krak! were written while Danticat was still an undergraduate at Barnard College, felt that these pieces were "out of place in a collection presumed to represent polished, mature work." But Ms. contributor Jordana Hart felt that the tales in Krik? Krak! "are textured and deeply personal, as if the twenty-six-year-old Haitian-American author had spilled her own tears over each." Even Houston conceded that readers "weary of stories that deal only with the minutiae of ‘relationships’ will rejoice that they have found work that is about something, and something that matters."

Danticat's novel The Farming of Bones concerns a historical tragedy, the 1937 massacre of Haitian farm workers by soldiers of the Dominican Republic. In the course of less than a week, an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic were slaughtered by the Dominican government or by private citizens in a classic case of "ethnic cleansing." The Farming of Bones is narrated by a young Haitian woman, Amabelle Desir, who has grown up in the Dominican Republic after being orphaned. As the nightmare unfolds around her, Amabelle must flee for her life, separated from her lover, Sebastien. In the ensuing decades as she nurses her physical and psychological wounds, Amabelle serves as witness to the suffering of her countrymen and the guilt of her former Dominican employers. The massacre, Danticat told Mallay Charters in Publishers Weekly, is "a part of our history, as Haitians, but it's also a part of the history of the world. Writing about it is an act of remembrance."

Dean Peerman wrote in Christian Century that "Breath, Eyes, Memory was an impressive debut, but The Farming of Bones is a richer work, haunting and heart-wrenching." In a Nation review, Zia Jaffrey praised Danticat for "blending history and fiction, imparting information, in the manner of nineteenth-century novelists, without seeming to." Jaffrey added: "Danticat's brilliance as a novelist is that she is able to put this event into a credible, human context." Farley also felt that the author was able to endow a horrific episode with a breath of humanity. "Every chapter cuts deep, and you feel it," he stated, continuing on to say that Amabelle's "journey from servitude to slaughter is heartbreaking." In Amerícas, Barbara Mujica concluded that Danticat has written "a gripping novel that exposes an aspect of Dominican-Haitian history rarely represented in Latin American fiction. In spite of the desolation and wretchedness of the people Danticat depicts, The Farming of Bones is an inspiring book. It is a hymn to human resilience, faith, and hope in the face of overwhelming adversity." Jaffrey ended her review by concluding that the novel is "a beautifully conceived work, with monumental themes."

Behind the Mountains takes the form of a diary of teenage Haitian Celiane Esperance. Celiane is happy in her home in the mountains of Haiti, but she hasn't seen her father since he left for the United States years before. She had intended to join him in New York, along with her mother and older brother, but visa applications are inexorably slow. After eight years, the visas are granted, and the family reunites in Brooklyn. After an initially joyful reunion, however, the family begins to slowly unravel. A child when her father left Haiti, Celiane is now a young woman with her own mind and will. Her brother, Moy, a nineteen-year-old artist, does not quietly slip back into the role of obedient child. Even more universal concerns, such as the freezing New York winters, difficulties at school, and the need to make a living, chip away at the family's unity. Good intentions go awry in a book showcasing "friction among family members" exacerbated by "the separation and adjustment to a new country," but especially by the inevitable maturation of younger family members and the unwillingness of parents to acknowledge it, wrote Diane S. Morton in School Library Journal. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, praised the "simple, lyrical writing" Danticat demonstrates in the novel. "Danticat brings her formidable skill as a writer and her own firsthand knowledge of Haiti and immigrating to America to this heartfelt story told in the intimate diary format," wrote Claire Rosser in Kliatt.

In addition to her own works, Danticat has also edited the fiction of others, including The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States. This work is a collection of stories, poems, and essays from Haitian writers living in America and Europe, many of whom are concerned with the feeling of displacement that is perhaps an inevitable consequence of emigration. Denolyn Carroll suggested in Black Issues Book Review that the pieces in The Butterfly's Way "help paint a vivid picture of what it is like to live in two worlds." Carroll also felt that the work adds "new dimensions of understanding of Haitian emigrants' reali- ties. This compilation is a source of enlightenment for us all." Booklist contributor Donna Seaman found the book "a potent and piercing collection" that will help all Americans understand "the frustrations … of Haitians who are now outsiders both in Haiti and in their places of refuge."

After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Haiti is Danticat's nonfiction account of her first encounter with Carnival, the boisterous, sometimes debauched, sometimes dangerous celebrations that rock Haiti every year. As a child, she did not have the opportunity to attend Carnival. Her family inevitably packed up and left for a remote area in the Haitian mountains each year to escape the celebrations, perpetuating an almost superstitious distrust of the event. At times, though, staying clear has been a good idea. During the regime of Haitian dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, carnival-goers were "subject to beatings and arrest by Duvalier's infamously unregulated militiamen," wrote Judith Wynn in the Boston Herald. Danticat therefore approaches her first experience of Carnival uneasily. Her trip, however, beginning a week before the actual event, immerses her in the rich culture and history of Haiti, the cultural importance behind Carnival, and the background of the celebration itself. Danticat's "lively narrative" describes a country with a deep history, "influenced by Christianity, voodoo, Europeans, pirates, dictators, past slavery, and an uncertain economy," wrote Linda M. Kaufmann in Library Journal. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, observed that "as in her fiction, Danticat writes about her odyssey with an admirable delicacy and meticulousness," while a Publishers Weekly critic noted that the author "offers an enlightening look at the country—and Carnival—through the eyes of one of its finest writers."

The Dew Breaker is a work of mystery and violence. It is a collection of short stories (many previously unpublished) connected by the character of the Dew Breaker, a torturer whose nickname is based on the fact that he attacks in the dawn before the dew has disappeared in the light of day. The Dew Breaker ultimately moves from Haiti to Brooklyn, becomes a barber, and raises a loving family. In Danticat's stories, the Dew Breaker reveals his secrets out of guilt, and his victims reveal their secrets, too, to ease the pain of their memories. Danticat's "spare, lyrical prose is ever present," wrote Marjorie Valbrun in the Black Issues Book Review, "in the gentle telling of stories that are soft to the ear even when pain and violence seem to scream from the pages." "The text presents two levels of truth," commented Robert McCormick in World Literature Today. In the course of reading, one comes to understand much, he hinted, but "what we don't know … is just as important."

Anacaona, Golden Flower: Haiti, 1490 is a novel for the upper elementary and middle school grades, written in the form of a diary. Anacaona is a young princess of the Taíno people who comes of age in the time of Christopher Columbus. She weds a royal chieftain who lives nearby and undergoes military training to defend her island home. Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg predicted that "readers will connect with Danticat's immediate, poetic language, Anacaona's finely drawn growing pains, and the powerful, graphic story."

In the well-received memoir Brother, I'm Dying Danticat tells the story of her father and his brother Joseph, a pastor who had remained in Haiti and had cared for Danticat and her brother in their early years. In 2004, the eighty-one-year-old Joseph, in poor health after a bout of throat cancer, sought asylum in the United States. Looters had burned his church in Haiti, and he had received death threats. Though Joseph had often visited family in the United States and had a passport and visa, immigration authorities detained him in Florida and took away his medications. Joseph's health quickly deteriorated, and he died in custody only two days after setting foot in the country. Soon afterward Danticat's beloved father, Mira, succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis—a diagnosis he received the same day that the author learned she was pregnant with her first child. Mira lived only long enough to hold his newborn granddaughter—named for him—and was buried in the same gravesite as Joseph in Queens, New York.

The memoir, Danticat told Democracy Now interviewer Amy Goodman, attempts to present "a picture of my uncle, of what he meant to us, but also to link his cause to the greater cause of mistreatment and lack of medical care of immigrants in detention." Her desire to be a writer, she went on, comes from "all of these things that I witnessed…. Just observing different things, I always thought I wanted to document things. And the way that the storytellers of my childhood told stories, that's really what made me want to be a writer."

Many reviewers admired the book's gripping details and heartfelt emotion, as well as its engagement with issues of exile. Calling Brother, I'm Dying a "fierce, haunting book," New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani observed that Danticat "gives the reader an intimate sense of the personal consequences of the Haitian diaspora." Desa Philadelphia, writing in Paste Magazine, highlighted the political message of the book. "For Haitians in particular," Philadelphia commented, "Danticat … has taken on the task of literally rewriting their image in America, exposing the racist inaccuracies of the ‘boat people’ persona that has been thrust upon these immigrants in this country."

Praising Danticat's skill in weaving together the political and the personal without resorting to any predictable response, New York Times Book Review contributor Jess Row called Brother, I'm Dying "a memoir whose cleareyed prose and unflinching adherence to the facts conceal an astringent undercurrent of melancholy, a mixture of homesickness and homelessness." Donna Rifkind, writing in Los Angeles Times, also noted the emotional strengths of the book but added that narrative coherence and "rigor" are less evident. In a review in World Literature Today, Robert H. McCormick, Jr., likewise noticed an "aesthetically awkward" element in the memoir, but found this more than compensated for by Danticat's "never-failing emotional intimacy with her characters."

Writing in the Boston Globe, Renée Graham hailed the "poetic truth" that Danticat finds in the "relentless hardships of her native Haiti and its people." The memoir, Graham concluded, is a "stellar achievement from a writer whose stunning talents continue to soar and amaze."

"In order to create full-fledged, three-dimensional characters, writers often draw on their encounters, observations, collages of images from the everyday world, both theirs and others," Danticat remarked in a biographical essay in Contemporary Novelists. "We are like actors, filtering through our emotions what life must be like, or must have been like, for those we write about. Truly we imagine these lives, aggrandize, reduce, or embellish, however we often begin our journey with an emotion close to our gut, whether it be anger, curiosity, joy, or fear."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 94, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Short Stories for Students, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.

PERIODICALS

America, November 6, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 10.

Amerícas, January, 2000, Barbara Mujica, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 62; May, 2000, Michele Wucker, profile of Danticat, p. 40.

Antioch Review, winter, 1999, Grace A. Epstein, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 106.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 29, 2000, Valerie Boyd, review of The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures, p. D3.

Belles Lettres, fall, 1994, Mary Mackay, "Living, Seeing, Remembering," pp. 36, 38.

Biography, September 22, 2007, Jess Row, review of Brother, I'm Dying, p. 679.

Black Issues Book Review, January, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 20; May, 2001, Denolyn Carroll, review of The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, p. 60; July-August, 2004, Marjorie Valbrun, review of The Dew Breaker, p. 43.

Booklist, January 1, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 778; March 15, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 1295; June 1, 1999, review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. 1796; February 15, 2000, Deborah Taylor, review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. 1096; October 15, 2000, review of The Beacon Best of 2000, p. 416; February 15, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 1096; January 1, 2002, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 763; August, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Haiti, pp. 1895-1896; October 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 312; May 15, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of Anacaona, Golden Flower: Haiti, 1490, p. 1674; July 1, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of Brother, I'm Dying, p. 20.

Boston Globe, Jordana Hart, "Danticat's Stories Pulse with Haitian Heartbeat," p. 70; September 16, 2007, Renée Graham, review of Brother, I'm Dying.

Boston Herald, November 17, 2000, Rosemary Herbert, "Writing in the Margins: Author-Editor Edwidge Danticat Celebrates Rich Pageant of Multicultural Stories," p. 43; September 1, 2002, Judith Wynn, review of After the Dance, p. 61.

Callaloo, spring, 1996, Renee H. Shea, interview with Danticat, pp. 382-389.

Christian Century, September 22, 1999, Dean Peerman, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 885.

Christian Science Monitor, September 11, 2007, Yvonne Zipp, review of Brother, I'm Dying.

Entertainment Weekly, September 3, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 63.

Essence, November, 1993, Edwidge Danticat, "My Father Once Chased Rainbows," p. 48; April, 1995, Deborah Gregory, "Edwidge Danticat: Dreaming of Haiti," interview, p. 56.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 12, 1999, review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. D4.

Jet, March 31, 2008, "National Book Critics Circle Winners," p. 25.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, review of After the Dance, p. 782; September 15, 2002, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 1387; July 1, 2007, review of Brother, I'm Dying.

Kliatt, November, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 16; November, 2002, Claire Rosser, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 8.

Library Journal, November 1, 2000, Barbara O'Hara, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 80, Ann Burns and Emily Joy, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 103; June 15, 2002, Linda M. Kaufmann, review of After the Dance, p. 83.

Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2007, Donna Rifkind, review of Brother, I'm Dying.

Ms., March-April, 1994, Joan Philpott, "Two Tales of Haiti," review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, pp. 77-78; March-April, 1995, Jordana Hart, review of Krik? Krak!, p. 75.

Nation, November 16, 1998, Zia Jaffrey, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 62.

Newsday, March 30, 1995, Richard Eder, "A Haitian Fantasy and Exile," pp. B2, B25.

New York, November 20, 1995, Rebecca Mead, review of Krik? Krak!, p. 50.

New York Times, January 26, 1995, Garry Pierre-Pierre, "Haitian Tales, Flatbush Scenes," pp. C1, C8.

New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1994, Jim Gladstone, review of Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. 24; April 23, 1995, Robert Houston, Krik? Krak!, p. 22; September 27, 1998, Michael Upchurch, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 18; December 5, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 104; December 10, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 36; September 4, 2007, Michiko Kakutani, review of Brother, I'm Dying; September 9, 2007, Jess Row, "Haitian Fathers," p. 1.

O, February, 2002, profile of Danticat, pp. 141-145.

Off Our Backs, March, 1999, review of Krik? Krak!, The Farming of Bones, and Breath, Eyes, Memory, p. 13.

People, September 28, 1998, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 51.

Progressive, December, 1998, Matthew Rothschild, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 44.

Publishers Weekly, August 17, 1998, Mallay Charters, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 42; November 2, 1998, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 40; September 11, 2000, review of The Beacon Best of 2000, p. 69; December 18, 2000, review of The Butterfly's Way, p. 65; May 13, 2002, review of After the Dance, pp. 58-59; October 28, 2002, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 72; July 16, 2007, review of Brother, I'm Dying, p. 155; July 30, 2007, Elaine Vitone, "PW Talks with Edwidge Danticat: Family Lines," p. 66.

Quarterly Black Review, June, 1995, Kimberly Hebert, review of Krik? Krak!, p. 6.

Reference and User Services Quarterly, spring, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 253.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 21, 1999, Shauna Scott Rhone, review of The Farming of Bones, p. D3.

School Library Journal, October, 2002, Diane S. Morton, review of Behind the Mountains, p. 160; January 1, 2008, Jennifer Waters, review of Brother, I'm Dying, p. 157.

Seattle Times, October 17, 2007, Michael Upchurch, review of Brother, I'm Dying.

Sojourners Magazine, April 1, 2008, Rose Marie Berger, "Death by Asylum: An Interview with Immigrant and Author Edwidge Danticat," p. 32.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 19, 2007, Chauncey Mabe, "Edwidge Danticat Encompasses the Pain of Haiti in a Lovely Family Memoir ‘Brother, I'm Dying.’"

Time, September 7, 1998, Christopher John Farley, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 78.

Times (London, England), March 20, 1999, Rachel Campbell-Johnston, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 19.

Times Literary Supplement, April 28, 2000, Helen Hayward, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 23.

Washington Post Book World, April 3, 1994, Bob Shacochis, "Island in the Dark," p. 6; May 14, 1995, Joanne Omang, review of Krik? Krak!, p. 4.

World and I, February, 1999, review of The Farming of Bones, p. 290.

World Literature Today, spring, 1999, Jacqueline Brice-Finch, "Haiti," p. 373; January-April, 2005, Robert McCormick, review of The Dew Breaker, p. 83; January 1, 2008, Robert H. McCormick, Jr., review of Brother, I'm Dying, p. 74.

ONLINE

Book Page,http://www.bookpage.com/ (June 4, 2008), Deanna Larson, review of Brother, I'm Dying.

Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (June 4, 2008), Jana Siciliano, review of Brother, I'm Dying.

Democracy Now,http://www.democracynow.org/ (June 4, 2008), Amy Goodman, interview with Edwidge Danticat.

Entertainment Weekly,http://www.ew.com/ (June 4, 2008), Jennifer Reese, review of Brother, I'm Dying.

Foreign Policy in Focus Web site,http://www.fpif.org/ (June 4, 2008), E. Ethelbert Miller, interview with Edwidge Danticat.

Free Williamsburg,http://www.freewilliamsburg.com/ (February 11, 2003), Alexander Laurence, interview with Danticat.

National Book Foundation Web site,http://www.nationalbook.org/ (June 4, 2008), Jennifer Gonnerman, interview with Edwidge Danticat.

Paste,http://www.pastemagazine.com/ (June 4, 2008), Desa Philadelphia, review of Brother, I'm Dying.

University of Central Florida Web site,http://reach.ucf.edu/ (June 4, 2008), Edwidge Danticat profile.

Voices from the Gaps,http://voices.cla.umn.edu/ (February 11, 2003), "Edwidge Danticat."

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