"What I fear most is the loss of loved ones. Maybe this book was a rage against it."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

In her latest book, "Brother, I'm Dying," best-selling author Edwidge Danticat writes about the deaths of her father and uncle, and her life of goodbyes and abandonment in Haiti.

When she was 2, her father fled the murderous Tonton Macoutes and went to New York. Her mother departed two years later. An uncle cared for them. The book traces the lives of exiles, separation, emigration and immigration, lives torn apart and sewn back together, with stitches that are never smooth.

She has written much about pain, oppression, love and loss in fiction such as "Breath, Eyes, Memory," "The Dew Breaker" and "Krik? Krak!"

At a coffeehouse in Silver Spring, with her black hair twisted and framing her face, she wears glasses and seems a bit sad. She is on tour to publicize her new book, and left her husband and daughter this morning in a hurry. "I didn't say a proper goodbye," she says.

-- DeNeen L. Brown

What do you fear?

My husband will say I fear everything. I'm a bit of an anxious person. If there is something to be feared, I fear it. . . . What I fear most is the loss of loved ones. . . . Maybe this book was a rage against it. . . . It is always a shock. Maybe because of earlier separations in my life, that is something I always fear.

What does it feel like being left? Are you ever whole?

I think separation, which is a very big part of migration and immigration, someone is always left behind. Sometimes it's the children, sometimes it's the parents. The legacy of that? Personally for me, I find goodbyes very difficult. . . . The hardest, the most tragic ones, are for people who are never reunited, who never reconnect, who lose a parent, who lose a child through migration. Fortunately, that was not my case. It sparks different things in you. Maybe that is a part of my writing, an attempt to create memory, of gathering pieces of myself that I lost during those years.

This book is a very sad, sad story. Why do you think it is important to write sad but true stories when it seems so much of this culture cares only for celebrity news?

We live in very, very sad times . . . especially in these times when they talk about immigration like it is a blight, like a stain on the world. Or a stain when they talk about 12 million aliens. I think we have lost sight of the individual and the individual stories. . . . When you are talking about 12 million illegals, that is a father, that is a mother, that is somebody's child.

And so I think it is important that we know these stories, too, that we know about these families. . . . I always say to Americans . . . that they have been working for you before they got here. They made your baseballs in the sweatshops back home. They have sewn your clothes. We are often connected in ways we don't often realize.

Your mother says in your new book, "I saw it in a dream. It was a dream. . . . I saw you holding a baby and no one was asking you whose it was." Do you see things in dreams?

A lot of things I see in dreams. . . . Sometimes, especially if I'm stuck in a story, the whole thing will manifest itself in a dream. . . . So dreams are a very important part of my consciousness. Especially after my father died and my uncle died, I dreamt about them all the time. And I can certainly see that is a way of filling gaps in our waking lives. Dreams can do that and they can also fill gaps in our work.

When I was reading "Krik? Krak!" a question came to mind: Do you believe in magic? What is your sense of the sixth sense?

I believe there is the reality beyond what we can see. I don't think we are the end of it all. That this time or this place is all there is. . . . There are things we think we know that we don't know. I think there is a mystery to life in general. There are a lot larger questions that art tries to address.

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