David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Edwidge Danticat’s “Krik? Krak!”

Edwidge Danticat's 'Krik? Krak!'This book review was originally published in the Baltimore City Paper on August 23, 1995.

It’s the old story of the Western migration: From impoverished peasant to fearful fugitive to cautious immigrant and finally, like the end of a torturous marathon race, assimilation. Adaptation. Conformity.

But for those who’ve lived it, as acclaimed Haitian author Edwidge Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory) reminds us in Krik? Krak!, sometimes the great migration is a Trail of Tears. Sometimes there is unimaginable pain and death along the way that makes you question whether or not the escape from oppression was worth the inhumanity.

The title comes from a responsive Haitian chant that inspires the various characters of the book to tell us their stories. The nine interconnected tales of Krik? Krak! follow the inhabitants of the Haitian town Ville Rose across several generations, from the woman imprisoned and starved during a witch hunt in “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” to the young man scribbling his plight on scraps of paper in a refugee boat in “Children of the Sea” to the Brooklyn-raised daughters that suffer their mother’s intolerable Old World superstitions in “Caroline’s Wedding.”

Through all of this Danticat weaves the overarching theme of memory. It’s through memory and the retelling of old stories and legends that the Haitians in Danticat’s tales achieve immortality, an extension to lives that were too often short and brutal and seemingly devoid of grace and beauty. The stories are a built-in defense mechanism for Haitian women caught in the savage games of the Papa Doc Duvaliers and the Raoul Cedrases, as the spirits of the dead say in “Women Like Us”:

“You have never been able to escape the pounding of a thousand other hearts that have outlived yours by thousands of years. And over the years when you have needed us, you have always cried ‘Krik?’ and we have answered ‘Krak!’ and it has shown us that you have not forgotten us.”

There’s not a bad story in the bunch, but my favorite was probably “A Wall of Fire Rising,” in which an impoverished couple try to raise their child without filling him with the despair and hopelessness that has infused their own lives. The son’s adoration of the slave revolutionary Boukman and his reverential incantation of the great man’s declarations of freedom only cause the boy’s father to see the irony in his own lack of achievement.

Writing in spare, elegant language, Danticat’s Krik? Krak! is a moving testimonial of man’s inhumanity to man — especially man’s inhumanity to woman — that you cannot leave untouched. Moving beyond the frustratingly ephemeral considerations of presidential politics, Danticat’s poetry of pain is an indelible portrait.

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  1. Hannah on November 30, 2008 at 5:57 pm  Chain link

    agreed. “Krik Krak” was an amazing book. My favorite was Children of the Sea, especially for the imagery… the mountains and the black butterflies, and a “sea that is endless like my love for you.”

  2. John on June 11, 2012 at 11:28 am  Chain link

    I could not disagree more. I absolutely hated this book, though you’ll probably call me “uncultured” for saying so. I thought that the writing was painfully archaic and that metaphors and symbols felt forced and unproductive, destroying any emotional or psychological attatchment I might have had to the stories. The short stories themselves were basic and hardly provided the kind of cultural window into Haitian society that I was looking for. I did enjoy “Children of the Sea” because I thought that the give and take between the narrator and his paramour back in Haiti helped to flesh out their characters in ways that none of the other stories could even try to achieve.

  3. Dominico on June 12, 2012 at 8:28 am  Chain link

    Couldn’t agree more, brah! And when I say I be agreeing with somebody, I mean I be agreeing with my brah right up there, JOHN. That guy knows what he be saying you know? Ah you betchuknow. You know, I don’t always comment on book reviews, but when I do, I disagree with what the review is saying. If you try and read this book looking for a good experience, you are gonna have a bad time. This is a good book? FALSE. This book is bad and Edwidge Danticat should feel bad.

  4. David Louis Edelman on June 12, 2012 at 5:51 pm  Chain link

    John and Dominico: You’re entitled to your opinions, of course. Keep in mind that this review was written 17 years ago…

  5. Allysen on September 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm  Chain link

    As a literary student, i found this book to be a pleasant read when compared to many of the books we as students are asked to endure. Although i would admit that this text would not have been my first choice for recreational reading, i found that it was a page turner. Sometimes we go about our everyday lives without a thought of what people in other countries are experiencing. Dunticat’s stories are touching and informative of the horror and pains of others and the possible depth of man’s inhumanity. Although Dunticat is adamant about her not being the voice of the Haitian people, through these stories she gives them a voice. This book is about posterity; utilizing the ‘oral tradition’ brought from Africa by the slaves to create an art of story telling that can be committed to memory and passed down through generations.

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