Krik?Krak! was one of the handful of books that I knew I wanted to read before I started my list for the 52-Country Challenge. I didn't know anything about Edwidge Danticat's book except that it had been a finalist for the National Book Award; when I learned that it was a selection of short stories ("krik?" is the traditional way a storyteller quizzes would-be listeners in Haiti; the audience's reply of assent is "krak!") I thought about switching to "The Farming of Bones, which is her account of Trujillo's massacre of the Dominican Republic's Haitian population. I am not a huge fan of the short story format, and I feared that the stories would be a mind-numbing recitation of Haiti's tragic past that would ultimately leave me exhausted. Then I heard a snippet of Dion Graham's narration of the first story in the collection, and since I am always in search of a good audio book, I decided to go ahead with my original decision.
It's always hard to review a collection of short stories. It's sort of like an album; you may like several songs from your favorite artist, but there's usually a track that you just cannot stand so you just skip over it, or eliminate it from your playlist. "Krik?Krak!" was a pair of bookends for me; the first story "Children of the Sea," a gripping (though improbable as narrated) account of a refugee's attempt to sail to the United States, and the closing tale--more of a novella, really--"Caroline's Wedding", a poignant depiction of a Haitian mother and her two daughters in present-day New York were my two favorites. The other stories--a woman watches her mother, accused of witchcraft, suffers in prison, a prostitute and mother discretely plies her trade while her child sleeps in another room--were a mixed bag for me. Some, such as the man who longs to escape from his life and captures a balloon belonging to the wealthy owners of a sugar refinery, seem too heavy handed; others seem too self-conscious and too highly polished, as if they had originally been offered up as carefully constructed vignettes in publications such as the "New Yorker". The tales were often vaguely connected, but I had trouble, in the spoken word form, trying to remember which characters related to one another. Sometimes, despite Robin Miles and Dion Graham's excellent narration, and as much as I enjoyed hearing the patois--especially the French--I would find my attention wandering, or I would find it difficult to shift gears to the next tale; occasionally I felt compelled to re-listen to parts to try to figure out the connections, which was my fault but still led to a disjointed experience. On the whole, they were nicely written, and they weren't the endless litany of tragedy and grinding poverty that I had feared, but I was left feeling a bit unsatisfied. And the epilogue, where Edwidge inserts herself into the narrative as the precocious young writer who listens to the tales of her family and vows that she will continue the tradition by writing them all down--well, some people love that narrative trick, and view it as a nice chain-of-life coda. I disliked it here; it came off as too special-snowflaky for me. Just...too tidy. It reminded me of how young she was (still in college) when she wrote some of these stories.
So would I recommend this book? Sure, I guess so--for the lover of short stories. I was impressed with her writing, and would definitely read "The Farming of Bones". Now, however, it is time for me to move on to the other side of the island of Hispaniola, Haiti's neighbor to the west--the Dominican Republic.