The Book of Ka
The Dew Breaker is a collection of nine separate but loosely interconnected stories. The first entry is narrated by a young woman from Haiti named Ka who lives in New York but finds herself traveling to Florida along with her father on a mission to sell a sculpture of her dad to a famous Haitian television personality named Gabrielle Fonteneau. After spending the night in a hotel, she wakes up to discover her father missing—along with the mahogany representation of him. Finally, as the day’s light begins to disappear on the horizon, her father reappears, but not with the sculpture. Instead, he transports Ka to the lake where he threw it into the water, stimulating great anger in his daughter at why he would do such a thing. The answer he provides is that he felt he was not worthy of the being immortalized as art. He then is moved to confess that the stories she’s heard all her life about his being imprisoned in Haiti are not true. In fact, he was employed to kill and torture many of those who were prisoners, but begs her to believe he regrets his actions and is no longer capable of doing such things. Upon returning to the hotel, Ka makes a phone to her mother, demanding to know how she could stay with him. Her mother responds by saying that it was meeting her that caused him to end that life and so, in effect, she saved his life. The next day sees Ka and her father meeting with Gabrielle over lunch. Ka’s father lies about his home in Haiti as a matter of protection against being identified. The long journey home seems to Ka one of unbearable emotional turmoil as she tries coming to grips with what she’s learned.
A husband who has already immigrated to New York from Haiti is about to see his wife for the first time in seven years when she arrives at JFK airport in NYC. During those seven years, he has acquired a green card to work and save enough for his wife to join him. He holds two janitor jobs and shares and a basement apartment rented from Ka’s parents. When he leaves for the next morning, she stays alone in the apartment with the radio tuned to Haitian stations. This continues for a week out of distress over the possibility of getting lost if she dared left the apartment while alone. When the weekend arrives, her husband finally convinces her to step outside and visit a park in Brooklyn, but this only bring on loving memories of the time long before they were younger and did things in Haiti like go on picnics surrounded by other Haitians who spoke the same language and shared the same culture.
The site of the picnic—Brooklyn—is the place that a Haitian immigrant on the verge of turning 40 calls home. Nadine is a hospital nurse whose finds herself growing less and less interested in calling her parents back home in Haiti. A breakup with a boyfriend and a recent abortion are still fueling her mental and emotional state which finds her living an increasingly more isolate life of alienation from everyone around her. The constant attention required of Ms. Hinds after a surgical procedure that has left her mute is not helping things. One night she breaks down and decides to call the ex-boyfriend only to learn that he now has an unlisted number. The man turns out to be none other than husband who has just reunited with his wife. When she calls her mother, the conversation doesn’t move beyond meaningless trivialities. After helping Ms. Hinds check out of the hospital, Nadine is suddenly stopped cold by her reflection in the elevator doors showing a distorted and enlarged version of herself which instantly brings to mind that the image is exactly how she would look for real today if she hadn’t aborted the baby inside her seven months earlier.
The Book of Miracles
Narrated by Anne, mother of Ka, this story relates the events as the family drove to attend mass one Christmas Eve. Only Anne is convinced of the existence of miracles and the drive crackled with anticipation since midnight Mass is the only time all three ever attend church as a family. As the Mass is taking place, a man is spotted among the crowd who looks just the face sporting so many fliers in the neighborhood. The man on the fliers is Emmanuel Constant who is wanted for murder and torture back home in Haiti. The fliers trouble Anne because of the worry that one day one of the posters will feature the face of her husband. The worst part of that eventuality would be that Ka would have finally discovered the deep, dark secret of her father’s past. On the way to receiving Holy Communion, Anne gets a closer look and realizes he is not the face on the fliers after all. Even so, the experience is profound enough for her to commit to never attending Mass again just on the offhand chance that some there might recognize her husband.
Dany is one of the tenants sharing the apartment with Nadine’s former boyfriend who has recently reunited with his wife. On a return trip to Haiti to visit his blind Aunt Estina, Dany desperately wants to inform her that he has finally managed to track down in New York the person responsible for murdering his parents and blinding her. When he first launches into his story, he is almost immediately interrupted by another visitor. The ensuing night is marked by dreams of how he tells Aunt Estina the news as well as memories of the awful night that started his quest. Although just six years old, he vividly recalls seeing the man who not only killed his parents and blinded his aunt, but threatened to shoot him as well. Many years later, Dany found himself living in the very same house as the man who committed these atrocities. He wants to tell his aunt about how he once went into the man’s bedroom late at night with the intention of exacting retribution, but how the fear that he might just be mistaken about the identity brought him to reason. The story will forever remain unheard by is aunt when he learns the next day that she died peacefully in her sleep.
The Bridal Seamstress
Aline Cajuste is preparing to interview Beatrice Saint Fort on the occasion of her retirement from her longtime position as bridal seamstress. Aline is of Haitian descent and Beatrice is from Haiti. As they stroll through the neighborhood following the interview, Beatrice shows Aline a house where she claims a Haitian prison guard now lives. She knows it is the same man because back in Haiti when she was younger, the man who lives in that house got so angry at her refusal to go out dancing with him that he forced her to go with him to a prison where he proceeded to brutally whip the bottom of her feet. Later on, Aline returns to the house for a closer inspection only to be informed by a neighbor that the house is vacant. When she relates this news to Beatrice, her reply is that of course it is empty. If anyone actually knew he lived there, he would almost certainly be captured and sent to prison himself. When Beatrice suggests that the man is somehow always able to find her no matter where she goes, Aline realizes that her emotional unrest has left her mentally unstable.
Michel, the other tenant of the apartment, recalls a day in Haiti in 1985 he will never forget. He was just 12 and already without a father. Jean-Claude Duvalier had only recently been outed from his role as dictator and his brutal militia—the Tonton Macoutes—were now finding themselves victims of violence at the hands of population whose outrage had been building steam for a long time. Michel tracks down his friend Romain whose father Regulas was being sought by locals because of his membership in the militia. They try to find shelter from the increasing disorder and anarchy in a hotel but no room is available. While at the hotel, Romain accidentally mentions that Michel’s father is a man named Christophe. Michel had already thought this might be possible, but never fully accepted it as truth. Romain announces that his decision to flee Haiti while Michel returns home to his mother. The next morning brings news that Regulas committed suicide rather than being captured and Michel never does hear any news of what happened to Romain.
The Funeral Singer
Three Haitian immigrants to New York in the 1970s bond over being the only students from students from the island nation enrolled in an English. Freda used to work as a professional funeral singer and she relates how her father was arrested and beaten by the government before mysterious vanishing at sea. This caused her to later refuse an invitation to sing that the palatial home of Haiti’s dictator, an act that moved her mother to convince her to flee the country. Mariselle tells how her husband was murdered after painting portrait of the President which was met with disapproval by the government. Rezia’s tale of terror is being raped a member of the militia.
The Dew Breaker
The concluding story in the collection begins in 1967 with Ka’s father waiting outside the church where he is going to assassinate a Baptist minister accused of preaching political opposition to the government in his sermons. He has been a member of the militia for ten years now, ever since he turned 19. The militia group calls itself the Volunteers. In the decade since joining, he his risen through the ranks on the back of a reputation for actually getting genuine pleasure from the torture he inflicts on the prisoners. His commitment is matched by the minister whose wife was poisoned to death and who wakes every day knowing assassination is inevitable. Ignoring advice to the contrary, he sets out for church and meets up with his stepsister, Anne. Anne leaves not only before he has completed his sermon, but before the Ka’s father and other Volunteers burn into the church and transport the minister to prison where a brutal beating awaits. Some time later, he is surprised to be informed by his superior Rosalie that the minister will be released from custody to avoid turning him into martyr. The minister is brought to the office where the Ka’s father proceeds to interview him. During the interview, the chair beneath him suddenly breaks apart and he quickly grabs a sharp piece of the shattered wood and drives it into the face of the Ka’s father. In response, the minister receives a fatal bullet. Now in fear that he will become a victim of the same brutality he exercised in the name of the government, Ka’s father makes a quick exit and head home only to run into Anne on her way to the prison to see her stepbrother. Seeing that the man is wounded, Anne insists upon going back to his home with him in order to care to his wounded face, believing that he must be a victim who miraculously managed to escape. As he recovers from his wounds, he makes plans to escape Haiti and settle in New York together. He stays true to his commitment to never harm another human being again without ever directly discussing the fate of the minister.