Edwidge Danticat pulls no punches in Everything Inside: Stories, her latest collection of short stories following those who balance on the precarious line between Haitian and American.
Everything Inside’s compelling stories grab you right away and don’t let go until the last page. The complexity of the Haitian diaspora manifests in twists and turns throughout the book, covering a depth and breadth of experience that a single character’s perspective probably wouldn’t manage.
A man falls from a high-rise, and we follow his thoughts for the six-second fall. A woman haunts the beach to meet those washed ashore from a harrowing sea-crossing from Haiti. A nurse in Miami learns of her best friend’s kidnapping in Port-au-Prince and tries to save her. A young Haitian American woman travels from New York to Miami to meet her Haitian father, for the first time, on his deathbed. Danticat seamlessly writes about isolation, the pain of separation and the disorientation of not belonging through the lenses of personal relationships and national identity.
"Doesn’t she know that she is an exception in this world, where it is normal to be unhappy, to be hungry, to work nonstop and earn next to nothing, and to suffer the whims of everything from tyrants to hurricanes and earthquakes?" - Sunrise, Sunset
The vignettes in Everything Inside are fictional but informed by Danticat’s own experience. Born in Port-au-Prince in 1969, Danticat and her brother were raised by their aunt and uncle after their parents immigrated to the United States. Danticat joined her parents in New York City when she was twelve, only then learning English. Years later, her then 81-year-old uncle tried to flee violence in Port-au-Prince by coming to the U.S. He was detained at the Miami airport, and Danticat was not allowed to see him. Five days later, he died in immigration custody.
The death of Danticat’s uncle is an all-too-familiar story of those forced into a no-man’s-land between violence in their home country and the dangers of emigration. But even for those who make it, navigating the liminal space between their native and adopted countries can be fraught territory.
In the story “Hot Air Balloons,” a Haitian American student resents the tragic depiction of Haitians by a nonprofit. “I was afraid that people would link that girl’s bruised face to mine, as someone who, though I was not born there, considered myself ‘left side of the hyphen’ Haitian,” she thinks. “Where were the idyllic beaches with fine white sand that my parents were always dreaming and talking about?”
On the other hand, in “Sunrise, Sunset,” a Haitian mother struggles to understand her American-born daughter’s depression. “Doesn’t she realize that the life she is living is an accident of fortune? Doesn’t she know that she is an exception in this world, where it is normal to be unhappy, to be hungry, to work nonstop and earn next to nothing, and to suffer the whims of everything from tyrants to hurricanes and earthquakes?” her mother thinks.
If you need more after reading Everything Inside, you’re in luck, because Danticat has a rich backlog of award-winning novels and short stories. Her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, was published in 1994, when she was 25. It was subsequently picked for Oprah’s Book Club, and Danticat was named one of literary journal Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. Danticat has been writing stunners ever since and is certain to be an author to follow into the future.