October 15, 2007

"Beating the Darkness": One Word at a Time

Edwidge Danticat"I see a lot of people who have never been to readings before," said Edwidge Danticat to an overflow crowd at Books & Books on Friday, October 12, 2007. "I also get nervous when I read in front of people I know," she laughed. It was hardly a statement that you'd expect from an international writer such as Edwidge Danticat. But then, again, Edwidge is anything but ordinary. And emotional and intellectual honesty have always been hallmarks of her work.

After giving a brief introduction to the subject of her latest book, Brother, I'm Dying, Edwidge confessed, "I didn't feel old enough to be writing a memoir, so this is more like a we-moir or an us-noir." She then read from the chapter, "Beating the Darkness" about the practice in Haiti of making a clamor with pots and pans whenever a neighborhood is threatened by chimeres, gangs, or soldiers. In this section, she related the event through the eyes of her uncle, Joseph: "My uncle tried to imagine in each clang an act of protest, a cry for peace, to the Haitian riot police, to the United Nations soldiers, all of whom were supposed to be protecting them" (172).

Then, shifting from the scene of urban violence to one of the most tender sections of the book, "Transitions," Edwidge introduced the chapter with this observation: "As children of migration, we are always looking for a haven, and sometimes we find that haven in another person." She cleared her throat and began, "There's a stage in labor called transition, when the baby, preparing to separate from the mother, twists and turns to pass through the birth canal. I am sure there is a similar stage for exiting life, though it might be less definitive" (252). In this chapter, Edwidge spoke candidly about her mother's labor which she compared to her own, but which occurred under less arduous circumstances. Yet she was forced to ask herself, "How could my mother have done this four times?" (253). Many of the women in the audience laughed or nodded appreciatively at that moment. But then, the memory of a note from a girlfriend reminded her, "May you be a repozwa…a place where children can rest," and offered a tentative hope to bear the trauma of childbirth.

Brother, I'm Dying, which has been nominated for a National Book Award, is a remarkable memoir that recounts the events in Edwidge's life between the summer of 2004 and the spring of 2005. In writing this book, Edwidge has not only used the transformative power of her art in bearing witness to the triumphs and tragedies of her family, but she has also expanded the meaning of repozwa to a place where the stories of her uncle, father, and all the Haitian families can, perhaps, find rest.



Stephen A. Bess said...

Hello Geoffrey! Yes, I listened to Ms. Danticat's interview on Democracy Now. The story she told of her father and her uncle was very touching. I'll have to get that book.

By the way, I love the tee shirt and pictures I saw on flickr. I giggled when I saw the larger than life spider (nice touch in promoting the book). Take care brother.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Stephen! How are you?

Yes, I heartily recommend the book.
My larger-than-life Anancy is part of the lesson that I do with the youngsters. More on Friday (10/19/07)