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  • Mapping the Echo ChamberEdwidge Danticat and the Thematic Trilogy of Birth, Separation, and Death
  • Nadège T. Clitandre (bio)

Maybe that was my purpose, then, as an immigrant and a writer—to be an echo chamber, gathering and then replaying voices from both the distant and the local devastation.

—Edwidge Danticat, Create Dangerously

On the one-year anniversary of the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman spoke to acclaimed Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat via telephone while she was in Carrefour, Haiti, the epicenter of the earthquake, to participate in the commemoration. In that interview, Danticat told Goodman, “Haitians are very resilient, but it doesn’t mean they can suffer more than other people.”1 In her essay “Lot bo Dlo: The Other Side of the Water,” which was published in Paul Farmer’s book Haiti after the Earthquake (2012), Danticat reflects on the relationship between this notion of resiliency that has become a buzzword for journalists reporting on Haiti since the earthquake, and the experience of suffering that marks the history of the Haitian people. Danticat states: “After three post-earthquake visits to Haiti, I began to ask myself if this much-admired resilience would not in the end hurt the affected Haitians. It would not be an active hurt, like the pounding rain and menacing winds from the hurricane season, the brutal [End Page 170] rapes of women and girls in the camps, or the deaths from cholera. Instead, it would be a passive hurt, as in a lack of urgency or neglect.”2 This passive hurt, for Danticat, is evoked in the lives of everyday Haitians who are mostly poor, marginalized, and unrecognized. Throughout her career, Danticat has attended to the multitude and varied unheard voices and untold stories of Haitians who confront, every day, the human trauma of loss and separation. Danticat explains that although these experiences may not evoke an “active hurt” that manifests in the form of a physical catastrophe such as the January 12 earthquake that had riveted the world’s gaze upon Haiti, they are forms of passive hurt that are nonetheless equally earth shattering and urgent:

There are degrees of trauma and loss I suppose and if you get invited on television programs and are asked to write articles about yours, it seems bigger. However, so many people have suffered much more, and I surrender all the blank spaces in and around these words to them. I surrender these spaces also to the dead, to the lives unfulfilled, to the stories untold. We will never know all the stories. Mine is only one—and it is from far away, from lot bo dlo, “The other side of the Water,” three Haitian kreyol words which evoke both migration and death. Separation, no matter how it happens, is earth shattering.3

This paper calls attention to Danticat’s preoccupation with the “passive hurt” that occurs in the everyday experiences of the Haitian people both in Haiti and in the diaspora.

To examine the nuances of Danticat’s notion of passive hurt, I propose that we read Danticat’s semiautobiographical novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), and her two recent nonfictional works, Brother, I’m Dying (2007) and Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (2010), relationally. In doing so, I argue, a thematic trilogy of birth, separation, and death emerges from the juxtaposition of these three texts. This thematic trilogy activates the passive hurt that Danticat attempts both to narrate in all her works and to examine through the particular lens of the migration experience and its consequences. I propose the term thematic trilogy as a principle of narrative coherence to bind all of Danticat’s writings, one that counters the fragmentation (literal and figurative) so prominent in each work she produces.4 In bringing together these three particular texts separated by genre (a novel, a memoir, and a collection of essays, respectively), the thematic trilogy paradigm that I am suggesting offers a map to understanding Danticat’s approach to birth, separation, and death as a Haitian immigrant writer.

Two clarifications need to be made about the thematic trilogy paradigm. The first has to do with...


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pp. 170-190
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