Find­ing home

Ed­widge Dan­ti­cat’s ‘Ev­ery­thing Inside’ gath­ers mov­ing sto­ries about the Haitian di­as­pora

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • CO­LETTE BAN­CROFT

Home, they say, is where the heart is. For those who leave their na­tive land, that can mean their hearts never heal. That’s true of many of the char­ac­ters in Ed­widge Dan­ti­cat’s pow­er­ful new short story col­lec­tion, Ev­ery­thing Inside. Like Dan­ti­cat her­self, many of the peo­ple in these eight finely crafted sto­ries are mem­bers of the Haitian di­as­pora. They have fled that is­land na­tion be­cause of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters like earth­quakes and hur­ri­canes, or hu­man dis­as­ters like bru­tal pol­i­tics and poverty. They live in Florida and New York, but their emo­tional ties to Haiti are pro­found.

One woman, Dan­ti­cat writes, as a young mother in Mi­ami, “was so lonely and home­sick she kept kiss­ing her ba­bies’ faces, as if their cheeks were plots of land in the coun­try she’d left be­hind.”

The au­thor was born in Haiti’s cap­i­tal, Port-au-Prince, raised in Haiti and in Brook­lyn, and has lived for years in Mi­ami. Her own ties to Haiti are strong. Haiti is not only her fre­quent lit­er­ary sub­ject but a po­lit­i­cal cause.

Dan­ti­cat’s nov­els and short story col­lec­tions in­clude Breath, Eyes, Mem­ory, Krik? Krak!, The Dew Breaker and Claire of the Sea Light. She has also writ­ten six chil­dren’s books. Her mem­oir Brother, I’m Dy­ing won the Na­tional Book Crit­ics Cir­cle Award and was a fi­nal­ist for the Na­tional Book Award.

Dan­ti­cat has a gift for the in­trigu­ing first line, as in Dosas, this book’s first story: “Elsie was with Gas­pard, her live-in re­nal-fail­ure pa­tient, when her ex-hus­band called to in­form her that his girl­friend, Olivia, had been kid­napped in Port-auPrince.” It’s even more com­pli­cated than it sounds.

Elsie, who works as a home nurs­ing at­ten­dant in Mi­ami, is still sad over her di­vorce from Blaise, a not very suc­cess­ful mu­si­cian. She’s the one who in­tro­duced him to the charis­matic Olivia, who be­came his lover – and Elsie’s best friend. It’s a tossup which one of them Elsie misses most.

At work, Elsie is car­ing for Gas­pard, a proud old man who has re­fused his only daugh­ter’s of­fer to give him one of her kid­neys. When Elsie hears of Olivia’s ab­duc­tion, she makes an of­fer of help that’s also a sac­ri­fice that comes with sur­prises.

An­other fa­ther-daugh­ter re­la­tion­ship is at the cen­ter of In the Old Days, although it’s a nonex­is­tent one. Na­dia, a young woman who teaches high school in Brook­lyn, has never met her fa­ther. He left her mother, not know­ing she was preg­nant, to re­turn to Haiti, and Na­dia’s mother never told him about his

daugh­ter, be­cause he “chose a coun­try over me.”

Sum­moned to her mother’s restau­rant, Na­dia won­ders, “Still, why did peo­ple think that they should share the most life-chang­ing news dur­ing a meal? Had they been bid­ing their time, wait­ing for a moment when the other per­son was sit­ting in a pub­lic place with a mouth full of food and couldn’t scream?”

THE SCREAM-WOR­THY news is that not only does Na­dia’s fa­ther know she ex­ists, he’s dy­ing and wants to see her. In a life­time of anger, she tells us, “I had al­ready killed him over and over in my mind. In a rob­bery, a duel, a ter­ror­ist at­tack, with bul­lets, grenades, land mines, snakebites.” But when she goes to Mi­ami, where he has come for med­i­cal treat­ment, she finds some­thing she never imag­ined.

The last two sto­ries in Ev­ery­thing Inside each have a sub­tle el­e­ment of fairy tale or fan­tasy. In Seven Sto­ries, a Haitian-Amer­i­can woman gets an in­vi­ta­tion to visit the home of the prime min­is­ter of an un­named Caribbean na­tion. Her only con­nec­tion: She knew his wife for a few weeks when both were lit­tle girls.

Cal­lie Mor­ris­sette is not only the wife of a prime min­is­ter, she was the daugh­ter of one. Her child­hood was all princess priv­i­lege – un­til her fa­ther was as­sas­si­nated when she was seven years old. She and her mother fled to Brook­lyn to stay with an aunt, who was the nar­ra­tor Kim’s neigh­bor. Kim was just a kid, too, but of­fered what com­fort she could.

Now Cal­lie looks like a su­per­model and is back liv­ing in the same lux­u­ri­ous palace she told Kim about back in the day. “It was a won­der­ful place to live, she’d said, ex­cept that grown-ups with guns were al­ways watch­ing over her.”

But be­tween posh and celebrity-stud­ded par­ties, Kim slips out of the palace for a visit to a ru­ral hos­pi­tal that paints a dif­fer­ent pic­ture of the is­land. Cal­lie has rev­e­la­tions of her own of the dark side of her fairy-tale life – to es­cape af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion, she and her mother paid a much higher price than any­one knew.

The fi­nal story, With­out In­spec­tion, has an­other of those ar­rest­ing first lines: “It took Arnold six and a half sec­onds to fall five hun­dred feet.” Dur­ing that in­stant, his life passes be­fore our eyes.

When he falls, Arnold is work­ing con­struc­tion on a Mi­ami high-rise ho­tel, happy to be sup­port­ing his fam­ily. The slip from a scaf­fold he “had nei­ther in­tended nor cho­sen” leaves him re­call­ing his love­less child­hood and his jour­ney from Haiti to Florida, which al­most ended in his death when a boat­load of mi­grants was tossed over­board.

But an an­gel awaited on the beach, an­other Haitian mi­grant named Dar­line. She vol­un­teered to help peo­ple like him be­cause when she ar­rived on a sink­ing boat, she saved her young son and watched the boy’s fa­ther die.

Dan­ti­cat gives us a warm por­trait of the life Arnold and Dar­line make with her son, Paris – and she ren­ders Arnold’s death even more heart­break­ing by re­veal­ing how his un­doc­u­mented sta­tus will shape it.

But, she writes, “There are loves that out­live lovers. Some ver­sion of these words had been his prayer as he fell.” Dan­ti­cat’s luck­i­est wan­der­ers find their heart’s home, wher­ever it may be.

(Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

(Jose Torres/Reuters)

HAITIAN CHILD mi­grants wait with their fam­i­lies to hand in refugee ap­pli­ca­tions for Mex­ico, out­side the Mex­i­can Com­mis­sion for Refugee As­sis­tance in Ta­pachula, Mex­ico, in July.

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