Danticat Reading Group Guide
1. The striking image on the cover of the book is by a Haitian artist, Pascale Monnin. It was commissioned by the New York Times for an Op-Art piece titled “Scenes From a Catastrophe.” Why do you think this image was selected for the cover of the book? Did your impression of the image change after reading Create Dangerously? More generally, how important is jacket art? Can you think of a particularly memorable book cover?
2. Why do you think that the author chooses to begin a work that is at least in part a memoir with a scene that took place before her birth? What might she be trying to say about the inheritability of experience and cultural memory? Where would your life story start if you wrote a memoir?
3. On page 10, Danticat writes “Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. … No matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” What is she saying about her own role as an author? Or our roles as her readers? Can you think of any books that would be worth risking your life to read?
4. On page 15, Danticat significantly quotes a passage from her friend Dany Laferrière’s book I Am a Japanese Writer: “I am surprised to see how much attention is paid to a writer’s origins.” Before or while reading a book, do you look up the author to find out more about him or her? What is gained or lost in knowing more about the author? After reading a book, do you often feel as if you know the author? After reading Create Dangerously, do you feel like you know Danticat?
5. When Danticat tells her Tante Ilyana that she would like to be buried in Haiti (page 31), her aunt replies, “You should be buried where you die.” Do you think Tante Ilyana dismisses Danticat’s desire to be buried in Haiti? Do you agree or disagree with Tante Ilyana? Is it possible to return “home” after leaving?
6. On page 64, Danticat’s friend Michèle tells her about the difficulty of being a journalist in Haiti: “Rather than reporting the story, we became part of the story.” But later she says that “I am a journalist. I cannot deal in rumors. I am looking for facts, for proof.” Can a journalist truly be objective in an environment where other journalists (including Michèle’s husband) are assassinated for their work? How does this relate to Danticat’s own struggle with depicting Haiti in her nonfiction writing? Is she a journalist?
7. After Danticat follows her cousin Marius’s body back to Haiti, her Tante Zi asks her to not write about what happened to Marius (pages 94-95). She tells her aunt that she cannot make that promise, but will not use their real names. Do you think Danticat was right to share this story about her family, even though it went against her aunt’s wishes? Is part of “creating dangerously” being willing to hurt the ones you love for a greater good?
8. Danticat frequently talks about living between worlds (see especially her recalled discussion with Jean Dominique on pages 49-51). Are there other immigrant writers whose work you enjoy and who express similar concerns?
9. After the earthquake, Danticat is called upon to speak and write about Haiti. On page 159, she writes of this experience, “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.” How does this differ from the role of news media who report on the aftermath of a catastrophe like the earthquake? Is it important to have immigrant artists tell the story, too?
10. In Chapter 5, Danticat tells the story of Alérte Bèlance, a woman who survived horrendous torture at the hands of two paramilitary men. On page 81, Alérte says that she, “healed, so I can tell my story, so people can know what happened to me.” Alérte’s story stands out because it is very violent and because Alérte is not an artist like Danticat or Dany Lafferière. Why do you think Danticat included Alérte’s story in this book about “the immigrant artist at work”?
11. On page 69, Danticat writes that when Marie Veux-Chauvet is faced with the possibility that publishing her book might bring harm to her family, “exile became Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s only choice.” Do you agree with Danticat that exile is Marie’s only choice? Would you have made the same decision?
12. Danticat writes on page 112 that “one of the advantages of being an immigrant is that two very different countries are forced to merge within you.” She continues to say, “so too with catastrophes and disasters, which inevitably force you to rethink facile allegiances.” Are national identity and patriotism "facile allegiances"? Can you think of examples from your lifetime where “facile allegiances” were cast aside?
13. The book starts with the deaths of two young men, and there is a lot of death and violence throughout the book—but there are also glimmers of hope. Danticat writes frequently about the resilience of Haiti and the Haitian people. Can you think of examples from the book that demonstrate this resilience?
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File created: 9/23/2010