Excerpt from The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Dew Breaker

by Edwidge Danticat

The Dew Breaker
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2004, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2005, 256 pages

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"Ka," he says, "I tell you why I named you Ka."

Yes, he’d told me, many, many times before. Now does not seem like a good time to remind me, but maybe he’s hoping it will calm me, keep me from hating him for the rest of my life.

"Your mother not like the name at all," he says. "She say everybody tease you, people take pleasure repeating your name, calling you Kaka, Kaka, Kaka."

This too I had heard before.

"Okay," I interrupt him with a quick wave of my hands. "I’ve got it."

"I call you Ka," he says, "because in Egyptian world—"

A ka is a double of the body, I want to complete the sentence for him—the body’s companion through life and after life. It guides the body through the kingdom of the dead. That’s what I tell my students when I overhear them referring to me as Teacher Kaka.

"You see, ka is like soul," my father now says. "In Haiti is what we call good angel, ti bon anj. When you born, I look at your face, I think, here is my ka, my good angel."

I’m softening a bit. Hearing my father call me his good angel is the point at which I often stop being apathetic.

"I say rest in Creole," he prefaces, "because my tongue too heavy in English to say things like this, especially older things."

"Fine," I reply defiantly in English.

"Ka," he continues in Creole, "when I first saw your statue, I wanted to be buried with it, to take it with me into the other world."

"Like the Ancient Egyptians," I continue in English.

He smiles, grateful, I think, that in spite of everything, I can still appreciate his passions.

"Ka," he says, "when I read to you, with my very bad accent, from The Book of the Dead, do you remember how I made you read some chapters to me too?"

But this recollection is harder for me to embrace. I had been terribly bored by The Book of the Dead. The images of dead hearts being placed on scales and souls traveling aimlessly down fiery underground rivers had given me my own nightmares. It had seemed selfish of him not to ask me what I wanted to listen to before going to bed, what I wanted to read and have read to me. But since he’d recovered from the measles and hadn’t died as we’d both feared, I’d vowed to myself to always tolerate, even indulge him, letting him take me places I didn’t enjoy and read me things I cared nothing about, simply to witness the joy they gave him, the kind of bliss that might keep a dying person alive. But maybe he wasn’t going to be alive for long. Maybe this is what this outing is about. Perhaps my "statue," as he called it, is a sacrificial offering, the final one that he and I would make together before he was gone.

"Are you dying?" I ask my father. It’s the one explanation that would make what he’s done seem insignificant or even logical. "Are you ill? Are you going to die?"

What would I do now, if this were true? I’d find him the best doctor, move back home with him and my mother. I’d get a serious job, find a boyfriend, and get married, and I’d never complain again about his having dumped my sculpture in the lake.

Like me, my father tends to be silent a moment too long during an important conversation and then say too much when less should be said. I listen to the wailing of crickets and cicadas, though I can’t tell where they’re coming from. There’s the highway, and the cars racing by, the half-moon, the lake dug up from the depths of the ground—with my sculpture now at the bottom of it, the allée of royal palms whose shadows intermingle with the giant fishes on the surface of that lake, and there is me and my father.

"Do you recall the judgment of the dead," my father speaks up at last, "when the heart of a person is put on a scale? If it’s heavy, the heart, then this person cannot enter the other world."

Excerpted from The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat Copyright© 2004 by Edwidge Danticat. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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