Wednesday, November 17, 2010


"We spent most of yesterday telling stories. Someone says, Krik? You answer, Krak! And they say, I have many stories I could tell you, and then go on and tell these stories to you, but mostly to themselves" (14). Edwidge Danticat includes this title anecdote in her opening story, "Children of the Sea." This story is an excellent way to begin the collection, and this cultural anecdote is a very true way to explain the nature of story-telling for the Haitian people, what it means to them, and what it reveals to us.

"Children of the Sea" takes on an unusual format: it is a sort of alternating dialogue between young lovers who have recently been separated. The young man is on a boat heading toward America, while the girl remains in a hostile Haiti. Each relates their adventures to the other. At first, I was unsure of whether these were actual letters read by the recipients, or perhaps ismply diary-type wishing, particularly looking at passages like, "i will keep writing like we promised to do. i hate it, but i will keep writing. you keep writing too, okay? and when we see each other again, it will seem like we lost no time" (8). It quickly became clear that not only were these "letters" never recieved, but in fact the two people involved would never see each other again.

So then what was the purpose of writing in the first place? To keep memory alive perhaps, or maybe because that is what humans do, as Danticat previously stated, for themselves. The young man on the boat writes his notes to his love in a notebook, and at one point is asked, "Kompe, what are you writing?" He responds, "My will" (25). His imaginary correspondences for him are his last testimony to what he feels is important to his life. His writing is both for him as a personal life-ending exercise, but also for the rest of the world to know after he has gone down to the sea, to death. This speaks to the intimacy yet strongly community-oriented nature of story-telling.

Each of the stories in the first half of Krik? Krak! are those of uniquely individual characters. While all living in the similar context of the everyday tragedy and danger rampant in Haiti, each character stands in a story of their own. Then, suddenly, Danticat springs this paragraph on us about a hundred pages in:

"Mama had to introduce me to them, because they had all died before I was born. There was my great grandmother Eveline who was killed by Dominican soldiers at the Massacre River. My grandmother Defile who died with a bald head in prison, because God had given her wings. My godmother Lili who had killed herself in old age because her husband had jumped out of a flying balloon and her grown son left her to go to Miami" (94).

All the stories' protagonists are familially connected, and several of the previously nameless are given names. That is the power of a story. It unites while it individualizes; it brings attention to a community while perpetuating the legacy of one person.

At the end of "Children of the Sea," the young man must throw his notebook overboard to prevent the boat from sinking. He will follow his book, and those previously lost, into the sea. He quite philosophically writes his last letter, "I must throw my book out now. It goes down to them, Celianne and her daughter and all those children of the sea who might soon be claiming me. I go to them now as though it was always meant to be, as though the very day that my mother birthed me, she had chosen me to live life eternal, among the children of the deep blue sea, those who have escaped the chains of slavery to form a world beneath the heavens and the blood-drenched earth where you live" (27). His writing is for all those lost, and yet are not lost in their free underwater "heaven." He writes for his loved ones, for his memory to be preserved. And he writes for us, for our momentary travel into his life.

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