Reflections on a Year of Reading Haitian Literature

Reflections on a Year of Reading Haitian Literature

Titles Read

  • Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
  • Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
  • Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois
  • Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

Originally, when I was selecting a country, I had the intention of choosing a country that I had always wanted to further learn about and that I had rarely dwelled deeper into in your typical history class. Haiti was one of my last options because my family originates from there and I had felt that I had a rather large grasp of knowledge about Haitian culture and didn’t feel the need to engage in the literature. Inevitably, I was left with two of my choices and after some serious deliberation, I decided on Haiti. After 20 weeks of reading Haitian literature, I have learned much more about Haiti’s political history and route to becoming the world’s first and only successful slave revolt that resulted in the founding of an independent country. In addition to learning about the country’s history, I was able to read about Haiti’s geographic beauty of the mountains and beaches of small villages that are often unheard of.

From Dubois’s authoritative book Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, I’ve learned how, after the Haitian Revolution, foreign countries including France, Germany, Britain, and the United States have continuously bombarded and looted the tiny tropical island of its resources to the extent of no recovery. Given no opportunity to thrive, Haiti underwent a series of insurrections, violence, and civil unrest. Nonetheless, Haitians remain resilient in their determination to maintain their sovereignty and autonomy and combat these foreign forces. However, as a result of being forced into paying endless indemnities and being taken advantage of, Haiti was coerced into a cycle of debt that remains today. Consequently, a majority of the population is indigent and uneducated to the present day.

From Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light I learned about the misogyny within the patriarchal Haitian culture. Particularly, the focus on women and idealistic standards set for them. Through her novels, I’ve gained a better understanding of the impact of Haitian misogyny and generational trauma on parenting and the impact of women’s standards on young girls. Moreover, Danticat’s novels Claire of the Sea Light, Breath, Eyes, Memory and Brother, I’m Dying all share the prominent themes of life and death, family, love. The Haitian Literature I’ve read emphasizes the clarity of one’s inner struggles that the readers could relate to despite the disparities in lifestyles, location, age, etc., and the bitter reality of life and death.

Edwidge Danticat’s historical fiction novel Claire of the Sea Light has taught me about the significance of considering others. The story portrays how each character has their desire but fails to be considerate of others and face mild to severe consequences. For instance, the protagonist Claire sought to be with her father, Nozias, but he is unable to financially support her, sells her off to a fabric vendor in hopes she lives a better life. It isn’t until when Claire runs away, Nozias realizes he didn’t consider Claire’s feelings.

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat taught me to be forgiving and to not dwell in the past. Throughout the story the protagonist, Sophie grows up to despise her mother and the women of her family. She hates them for traumatizing her and for continuing the generational trauma. Near the end of the novel, learns that this generational trauma is caused by the misogyny and obsession with women’s purity of the Haitian culture. Near the end of the novel, instead of persisting in the past, Sophie forgives her family and aims to be a better mother for her daughter.

Laurent Dubois’s historical nonfiction book, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History leaves me with a more profound understanding and appreciation for Haitians’ dedication to maintaining their sovereignty. This book provided me with a more analytical and positive perspective on Haitians who fought for liberation and independence and has taught me about the importance of perseverance. To gain or pursue what you are truly passionate about, you must understand that the obstacles that come your way should not hinder you from reaching your goal.

Edwidge Danticat’s memoir Brother, I’m Dying is a great and raw representation of what it means to achieve the American Dream. Danticat’s recounts of how her parents had left her and her brother to go to America had caused a strain in their relationship. Years later, she reunites with her parents in New York who are working more arduously to raise their standard of living despite having left their children to achieve “success” and money. Danticat emphasizes the struggle of being an immigrant in America and the hardships and burdens that are often overlooked in achieving the American Dream.

Throughout these 20 weeks of independent reading, I’ve learned that I enjoy reading when it is to my interest. Under the conditions where I would be required to read a piece of literature that doesn’t pique my interest in the slightest or is too long, I find it more difficult to enjoy reading. However, although the independent reading was an assignment, I had come to not despise it but rather be content to learn more about Haiti. Additionally, reading a certain number pages a night aided in expanding my vocabulary and in reading at a faster pace where I am still able to retain information. I was also astonished to find myself enjoying the nonfiction books, considering that the genre is one of my least favorites in literature. Moreover, reading ten pages a night boosted my interest in wanting to learn more about the various facets of Haitian culture that I had not known about.