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  • Exploring Trauma through the Memory of Text:Edwidge Danticat Listens to Jacques Stephen Alexis, Rita Dove, and René Philoctète

These pages were prompted by a teaching experience, and I need to say a few words about it first by way of introduction. A few years ago, I decided to put the collection of short stories by Edwidge Danticat, Krik? Krak! on my postcolonial class syllabus. Among the students who had enrolled in the class was an American exchange student. She was of Haitian descent but had never read Danticat. Nor did she know anything about the massacre of Haitians ordered by Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (1891-1961) who had taken power in 1930. Between the second and eighth of October 1937, the Trujillo regime murdered an estimated 20,000 Haitians who had been working for years in the Dominican Republic near the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The student chose to do a presentation on the story to the class and when it was her turn, she explained how she had phoned her mother in order to find out about what had happened in 1937, since she did not know anything about the massacre. I still remember the shivers she sent up our spines, and the quality of the silence that shrouded the whole group. I am sure every student in that class still remembers that moment as vividly as I do. What was so totally heart-rending and so totally exhilarating was the double, or even treble, detour the student had to take to get to her national history: she needed a student exchange experience in France, i.e. the former colonizing country; literature, and finally, another language, English instead of French or the Haitian Creole she may have heard when she was small. By doing so, she was doing exactly what Danticat speaks about in the epilogue to her collection, “Women Like Us”: she was making “the old spirits” live again,1 she was continuing to weave the web of words and silence that is so central to Haitian culture and at the heart of Krik? Krak!, she also kept up the listening and the speaking, going along with the belief that “if you didn’t tell the stories, the sky would fall on your head,” not wanting the [End Page 163] silence to “chop away at your flesh” (KK 223).

I would like in this article to foreground some of the questions raised by this experience: the (in)accessibility of trauma for generations who have not lived through the trauma directly but have inherited it from the previous generations;2 and the working through that can only take place through repetition of, and listening to, the other text,3 which may be other writers’ texts or, as I will also show, translations. Numerous scholars have published articles and books on Edwidge Danticat’s work, laying the emphasis of trauma and testimonio, on the body as “a metonym of the Island” and how it becomes a site of memory,4 on telling and silencing, on how “communities are formed by what they choose to remember as well as what they choose to forget.”5 I would like to bring into the conversation an element which does not seem to have garnered quite enough interest so far: the way the fictional texts about 1937 have circulated and influenced each other, have been translated in the many senses of the word. I would like to show how Danticat’s novel The Farming of Bones (1998) is at the heart of this process of dissemination. In The Tears of Hispaniola: Haitian and Dominican Haitian Memory (2006), Lucia Suárez insists on “the persistent trauma caused by violence in Haitian and Dominican experience” and suggests that we “consider the impossibility of mourning that surfaces from the stories” while keeping in mind that “the process of writing, for the authors, and reading, for us, actualizes the possibility of mourning.”6 Bringing the past into the present is indeed one of the ways of escaping “the prison-house of memory”7 that is often built in the memorialization of the past. Disseminating it in a multiplicity of texts writes...

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