[Blackstudies-l] Edwidge Danticat Wrestles with Death, in Life and in Art

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Tue Jun 27 05:15:59 EDT 2017

ivetteromero posted: " Here is an insightful review by Michiko Kakutani of
Edwidge Danticat’s work, in particular, her forthcoming The Art of Death:
Writing the Final Story (July, 2017). For the original review, see “Books
of the Times,” The New York Times (26 June 2017). De"
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<http://repeatingislands.com/author/ivetteromero/> Edwidge Danticat
Wrestles with Death, in Life and in Art
ivetteromero <http://repeatingislands.com/author/ivetteromero/>

*[image: DANTICATJP-master180]*

*Here is an insightful review by Michiko Kakutani of Edwidge Danticat’s
work, in particular, her forthcoming The Art of Death: Writing the Final
Story <https://www.amazon.com/Art-Death-Writing-Final-Story/dp/1555977774>
(July, 2017). For the original review, see “Books of the Times,” The New
York Times
(26 June 2017).*

Death and grief haunt Edwidge Danticat’s fiction and nonfiction — ghosts
from her own family’s losses, and the sufferings of Haiti (where she was
born and spent the first 12 years of her life) over the decades from
poverty, murderous paramilitary thugs and a devastating 2010 earthquake
that left an estimated 220,000 to 316,000 dead.

In her deeply affecting memoir “Brother, I’m Dying
<http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/04/books/04dant.html>,” Danticat wrote
about the deaths of her father and her uncle, and how the Haitian diaspora
both fractured and rallied her family. For years, she lived with her uncle
and her aunt in Port-au-Prince, while her parents tried to start a new life
in America. When she was 4, her mother departed for the United States,
leaving Edwidge with 10 dresses she’d sewn — most of them too big, and
meant to be saved and worn in the years to come.

In her latest book, “The Art of Death,” Danticat writes about her mother’s
death from cancer a few years ago, and the last months she spent by her
mother’s bedside remembering the stories and jokes and walks they shared,
and trying to piece together — or imagine — her early life and the years
they’d lived in different cities or countries.

“There was a kind of fragility to our relationship,” she writes. “Neither
one of us thought we could handle a full-blown fight, because of all the
years we’d spent apart. The wrong words might have shattered us to pieces.
Every moment we spent together was time being made up.”

This book is a kind of prayer for her mother — an act of mourning and
remembrance, a purposeful act of grieving. It’s also a book about how
Danticat and other writers have tried to come to terms with the fact of

She writes about Tolstoy writing in “Confession” about the deaths of loved
ones and strangers, and the rumor that he was so determined to share his
own last moments that he “came up with a series of codes, including eye
movements, so that when his time came, he could describe to the people
around him what it was like to die.” She writes about “Mortality,”
Christopher Hitchens’s brave, funny, shattering account of his 18-month
fight with esophageal cancer and his steadfast determination not to feel
sorry for himself. And she writes about Gabriel García Márquez’s fear of
dying, and how, in “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” he wrote about “death
as though it were the only possible subject.”

Characters in García Márquez’s novel, she points out, “die alone, en masse,
in wars, massacres, executions, drownings, suicides. They die from
miscarriages and during childbirth, from old age — very old age — and
disease and, every now and then, of natural causes. Some spend months and
years dying and get sprawling death scenes. Others are simply done with in
a sentence or two or in a few words.”

Like John Updike, Danticat writes beautifully about fellow writers,
dissecting their magic and technique with a reader’s passion and a
craftsman’s appraising eye. There are illuminating passages in this volume
about the role that suicide and murder play in Toni Morrison’s fictional
world, where “death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person,” at
least not as bad as “the living death that was slavery.” And a moving
section about the solace Danticat took — in the wake of the Haiti
earthquake of 2010, which claimed members of her own family — in rereading
“After the Quake,” Haruki Murakami’s collection of stories set after the
1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan.

At times, Danticat’s references to books by other writers — including Susan
Sontag’s “Illness as Metaphor,” Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking
Mary Gordon’s “Circling My Mother” — proliferate so rapidly that the reader
can feel like a student cramming for finals in a seminar on the Literature
of Death and Grief. We are given an aside about the obsession with suicide
shared by Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton; an analysis of why Alice Sebold had
the 14-year-old narrator of “The Lovely Bones
recount the story of her own rape and murder; and disquisitions on how
novelists like Camus, Thornton Wilder and Don DeLillo have depicted death.

Such passages obviously lack the intimacy of the sections of this book
devoted to Danticat’s mother, but the reader gradually comes to understand
why the author is circling around and around an almost unbearable loss: As
a grieving daughter, she wants to understand how others have grappled with
this essential fact of human existence; and as a writer — a
“sentence-maker,” in the words of a DeLillo character — she wants to learn
how to use language to try to express the inexpressible, to use her art to

See original at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/books/review-edwidge-

Also see purchasing information at https://www.amazon.com/Art-

*ivetteromero <http://repeatingislands.com/author/ivetteromero/>* | June
26, 2017 at 7:45 pm | Tags: Edwidge Danticat
<http://repeatingislands.com/tag/edwidge-danticat/>, The Art of Death:
Writing the Final Story
| Categories: Literature <http://repeatingislands.com/category/literature/>,
New Books <http://repeatingislands.com/category/new-books/> | URL:

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