Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat ( Princeton University Press: 181 pp., $19.95) “Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them."Edwidge Danticat grew up in Haiti in the 1970s, under the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier. Danticat was born in 1969, but the story of the 1964 public execution of revolutionaries Marcel Numa and Louis Drouin was her creation myth — their courage, she writes, like the courage it must have taken Eve to take a bite of the apple; their deaths like Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. Danticat moved from Haiti to Brooklyn when she was 12. The beloved elderly uncle who had cared for her when her parents moved in 1971 to Brooklyn was persecuted by local gangs in Port-au-Prince, sought asylum in the U.S., was interrogated by U.S. officials, brutally incarcerated in Miami and died within days of his arrival. (She tells his story in her 2007 memoir, “Brother, I’m Dying.”) Many of her loved ones, including two cousins, Maxo and his 10-year-old son, Nozial, were killed in this year’s earthquake. In these essays, Danticat tells the stories of fellow Haitians: Alerte Belance, brutally hacked by machetes during the 1991 military coup; the journalist Jean Dominique, assassinated in 2000; and others. “The immigrant artist shares with all the other artists the desire to interpret and possibly remake his or her own world.” These essays, reminiscent of Maurice Blanchot’s “The Writing of the Disaster,” (1980) are full of the images that have formed Danticat, the writer. She rearranges them in a collage. Haitians say that Haiti is “te, glise,” she writes, “slippery ground.” These essays are her effort to hold onto and even re-create her homeland.
On Admiration: Heroes, Heroines, Role Models, and Mentors by W.D. Wetherell (Skyhorse Publishing: 187 pp., $12.95 paper) Admiration takes time to form and settle in a person’s consciousness. Unlike adulation, it affects the admirer’s development, inspires growth (and often action) and is a portal to the higher self. Recent studies raise the possibility that in these times, “the rapidity and parallel processing of attention-requiring information, which hallmark the digital age, might reduce the frequency of full experience of such emotions [as admiration], with potentially negative consequences.” W.D. Wetherell hopes to “restore admiration to its rightful place as one of the most honorable and enjoyable of all human emotions.” With high humor and heartfelt reverence, he walks us through the heroes and heroines of his childhood, teenage years, college and on: Thoreau, Pete Seeger, Sir Edmund Hillary, Mickey Mantle, Beverly Sills, Winslow Homer, all the way up to Barack Obama. Wetherell and his son went together to hear Obama give a campaign speech in New Hampshire. The writer describes his experience: “It’s earthy and tactile more than intellectual and abstract. There’s an unlocking or unclenching sensation that comes very fast, and which can only be from cynicism dissolving, or at least starting to melt.... Hope is there, too, and not just in the abstract, but the kind you feel in your gut when you’re expecting good news and it’s a second before it’s delivered. And trust — a calming, soothing sensation….” Wetherellis a born contemplator and an accomplished essayist.
The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside (Pantheon Books: 215 pp., $24.95) Like the 1997 novel that made Bernard Schlink famous, “The Reader,” “The Weekend” is a study of memory, written with the backward glance that fuses politics and personal history. A cast of characters meet on a country estate in Germany to welcome home their old friend, Jorg, after 23 years in prison. Schlink releases the details of his tale with an almost chilling amount of control — a slow drip of supporting facts. Jorg was a terrorist, a bank robber who killed four people. His estranged son accuses him over the course of the weekend of being the next generation of thugs after the SS. “The Weekend” is written like a play; spare as Beckett, with the occasional scene setting and a historical context that is truly literary, mutable. Who are these intellectuals and activists and what is their cause? Jorg struggles to remember important details from his terrorist past: “I feel as if things have broken out of my memory, not old, unimportant things that have to sink to the bottom so that new things have room, but parts of me. How can I trust myself?” “The Weekend” doesn’t have the warmth, the grip of “The Reader.” There’s hardly a character to grab onto. The ground shifts with each character’s perspective on the past.
Salter Reynolds is a writer in Los Angeles.