Ka, a New York sculptor of Egyptian name and Haitian descent, has a problem, but not exactly the problem she thinks she has. The protagonist of "The Book Of The Dead," the first of nine interlocked short stories that make up Edwidge Danticat's The Dew Breaker, Ka is looking for a sculpture of her immigrant father that's vanished along with its subject. The father shows up and the art doesn't, but before the story's end, Ka discovers that the taciturn, much-suffering vision she'd sculpted bears only a passing resemblance to the man himself.
Jumping back and forth from the present to the iron-fisted reign of the Duvalier family, The Dew Breaker takes a multi-angle look at the history of Haiti and those who fled it. With the country's current state of affairs much in the news, it's a timely topic, but while the world at large tends to think about Haiti only when the flames get high, Danticat's characters spend their lives learning to deal with the heat and smoke. For Aline, the journalist at the center of "The Bridal Seamstress," the past exists as much in theory as in fact until she interviews the soon-to-retire character of the title. In "The Night Talkers," a native Haitian's return to the land of his childhood leads to the discovery that the past never lies dormant, even if it only comes out after dark.
A Haitian emigrant herself, Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory) understands that history is more in the stories of those who live it than in dates and numbers, and variety serves as one of The Dew Breaker's greatest strengths. Danticat has no fear of obliqueness, and the book's only weakness is that its stories work better as parts of a collection than as individual installments. Danticat's characters dangle, trapped by fate, internal malaise, or some conspiracy of the two. Only readers and a few privileged, haunted characters get to see the web holding them.