The Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat is one of the outstanding voices of contemporary American fiction, and over the years she has won numerous international awards. The title of her short story ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ is the name of a charming little game played by Carole, the grandmother in a Haitian-American family in Miami: “Carole likes to entertain Jude with whatever children’s songs and peekaboo games she can still remember, including one she calls Solèy Leve, Solèy Kouche—Sunrise, Sunset—which she used to play with her children. She drapes a black sheet over her grandson’s playpen and pronounces it ‘sunset,’ then takes the sheet off and calls it ‘sunrise.’ Her grandson does not seem to mind when she gets confused and reverses the order.”
Gathered together to celebrate new life at a christening, it is impending death that casts its shadow like a black sheet over Carole’s family, for she has been exhibiting the symptoms of dementia. The story revolves around Carole’s relationship with Jeanne, her daughter, who has post-partum depression, with each woman struggling to keep their footing in the midst of life changes. Carole wishes Jeanne would understand that she can’t afford to be sad. “Where would the family be if Carole had stayed sad when she arrived in this country? Sometimes you just have to shake the devil off you, whatever that devil is. Even if you don’t feel like living for yourself, you have to start living for your child…” There are flashbacks to Carole and her husband Victor’s life in Haiti, and the homesickness she felt in Miami when Victor left for work each day. “She was so lonely and homesick that she kept kissing her babies’ faces, as if their cheeks were plots of land in the country she’d left behind.” The relationships among multiple family members unfold like the petals of a flower, until a frightening moment involving the baby Jude that culminates in heartbreak. The tenderness that marks our finer moments and the impetus towards survival against all odds are themes that pervade Danticat’s beautiful writing.
First published in the New Yorker, September 18, 2017. Available online here