Celebrate Caribbean Heritage Month with Books

Caribbean stack

I have a not-so-secret obsession with everything Edwidge Danticat has ever put on a page. Her words are powerful, lyrical, and envelop you in the world of Haitian Diaspora. Danticat, and other writers I love, use their writing to shed light on life in the Caribbean from foods, to culture, to colonialism, to being caught between the world of the United States and the world of the Islands, not fitting neatly into either. Below are three of my favorites from my stack.

Feast of the Goat

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

Brutal, raw, revealing, hauntingly beautiful…I read this book cover-to-cover in one 5 hour sitting. It unapologetically reveals the terror that Trujillo inflicted on the citizens of the Dominican Republic. The alternating narrators from chapter to chapter leant power to the testimony of Trujillo’s victims. Urania’s story was touching in its attention to detail as we followed her loss of innocence at Trujillo and her own father’s (a trujillista)hands. It was horrific but I couldn’t stop reading every word that Llosa carefully chose to portray her naivite, her shame and her resolve. I cheered alongside De Maza as he and his fellow conspirators plotted and carried out the Trujillo assassination. I was equally grieved as Trujillo’s son captured and tortured the men in brutal fashion for months- they only survived through injections ordered by Ramfis to keep them alive so he could continue his sadism. I even relished the chapters narrated by Trujillo himself. Llosa humanized him through his depiction of shortcomings and fears. Trujillo was not just the dictator who never sweated and showed no remorse. Llosa gives the reader all of Trujillo from his growing up to his battle with prostate cancer, but though it made him believable, his evil permeated and was inescapable.

Farming of the Bones

 

The Farming of the Bones by Edwidge Danticat

Danticat’s voice is haunting in this tale from a turbulent time between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The raw passion between Sebastian and Amabelle as they find solace in each other amidst the struggles of the cane fields and plantation work is palpable. I am still churning over the unfinished ending to the poignant story.

 

The Dew Breaker

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat

The vignette, “The Water Child” especially spoke to me. One of the most telling motifs in the chapter is the lack of voice. First we have the reference Ms. Hinds makes about the basenji. Ms. Hinds explains that it is “A dog that doesn’t bark… [it just] exists.” Later in the chapter, as Ms. Hinds is getting ready to be released, lack of voice is brought up again through Nadine’s internal monologue as she discusses the struggles Ms. Hinds will face, “…the dread of being voiceless…,when she would awake from dreams in which she’d spoken to find that she had no voice, or when she would see something alarming and realize that she couldn’t scream for help, or even when she would realize that she herself was slowly forgetting,…what her own voice used to sound like.” Though Nadine is describing the experience she thinks Ms. Hinds will experience having physically lost her voice, I think this is also a representation of how Danticat sees Haitian emigrants. The Haitian Diaspora have become like the pebble floating in the water on Nadine’s shrine to her aborted baby. They are different from their surroundings and fighting to maintain their original shape as the surrounding water slowly erodes them until they become, “…the unrecognizable woman staring back at [them] from the closed elevator doors.” Each of the chapters has something to offer about the Haitian Diaspora experience but “The Water Child” is the most powerful to me and could stand on its own as a short story. Amazing book when you understand the context of Danticat’s background as a Haitian Emigrant.

 

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