Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad
There, in a lush landscape of fire-petaled immortelle trees and vast plantations of coffee and cocoa, where the three hills along the southern coast act as guardians against hurricanes, Krystal A. Sital grew up idolizing her grandfather, a wealthy Hindu landowner. Years later, to escape crime and economic stagnation on the island, the family resettled in New Jersey, where Krystal's mother works as a nanny, and the warmth of Trinidad seems a pretty yet distant memory. But when her grandfather lapses into a coma after a fall at home, the women he has terrorized for decades begin to speak, and a brutal past comes to light.
In the lyrical patois of her mother and grandmother, Krystal learns the long-held secrets of their family's past, and what it took for her foremothers to survive and find strength in themselves. The relief of sharing their stories draws the three women closer, the music of their voices and care for one another easing the pain of memory.
Violence, a rigid ethnic and racial caste system, and a tolerance of domestic abuse―the harsh legacies of plantation slavery―permeate the history of Trinidad. On the island's plantations, in its growing cities, and in the family's new home in America, Secrets We Kept tells a story of ambition and cruelty, endurance and love, and most of all, the bonds among women and between generations that help them find peace with the past.
Sital paints a credible and complex portrait . . . This is not the Trinidad of V. S. Naipaul, rendered with elegant sentences and brilliant introspection, but, rather, a place where women's and children's lives are held in thrall by cruel men. Sital captures the island's lushness, its strong aromas of curry, its extreme heat and cool ocean, and, above all, its sounds — the local dialect, liberally sprinkled through the book, gives a flavor of the lives of these people reduced by extreme poverty and hard work to "an animal viciousness."
. . . a light is shed on the many tribulations Krystal's foremothers had to endure in order to survive . . . Not only is Secrets We Kept an enthralling memoir through every page, but it brilliantly reveals the gender inequality that too commonly takes place throughout the Caribbean and around the world.
. . . this is also a profoundly American book . . . It is a harsh, gritty truth, one which is not easy to tell . . . its examination of how violence begets violence, pain begets pain. Sital knows, perhaps as well as anyone, that the theme of her book is absolutely timely, painful, and necessary. A culture of harm creates only more harm. But within that, there is survival. Sital's writing is elegant, tender, brimming with feeling below the surface: a cursive bruise . . . In this book, and in life, women survive, and that might be one of the most important things about us.
Through her family story, author Krystal Sital examines the widespread nature of domestic violence in Trinidad, where it has traditionally been considered a private family matter . . . raw and intimate . . . the Trinidad Sital vividly evokes is rigidly divided by class and race . . . suffused with a fierce compassion.
Abandonment, abuse, patriarchy, walking the often hyper-tense tightrope between cultures and genders, informs so much of this exquisite book—as does the earnest telling of women's stories. Sital is not exactly unaware that she carries inherited mourning, inherited memory and inherited abuse, but until she asks her mother and grandmother for their stories of her grandfather, she doesn't fully realize the depth of the pain and suffering that has leached into her being. This is a striking book. And the strength, bravery and sheer will of the women will make you glad you read it.
Secrets We Kept is about Krystal Sital's grandmother's life as a widow, and the complicated freedom she found after her husband's death.
Any romantic, sunny notions about Caribbean island life vanish quickly in this stark account of a place where cultures clash, men dominate, and women often suffer . . . A powerful, disturbing narrative in which pain flows out from the page, drenching readers.
Krystal Sital unlocks the Secrets We Kept.
An absorbing, beautifully crafted memoir for all readers.
Sital's bracing, loving blend of memoir and family history is not to be missed.
In this stunning, unforgettable memoir, Krystal A. Sital, writes with unflinching honesty, exploring with great depth and complexity, her grandmother's liberation after her grandfather's death and the complications that arise from this fiery matriarch's quest to self-hood after years of abuse and servitude. A brilliant account of gender inequality and the burdens we bear as women in the Caribbean.
Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of Here Comes the Sun
Powerful and heart-wrenching, Krystal Sital's beautifully written memoir The Secrets We Kept details her family history on Trinidad, as her grandmother and mother finally unleash their voices to uncover the brutal truth of who her grandfather truly was.
Jean Kwok, author of Girl in Translation & Mambo in Chinatown
Once a decade or so, if we're fortunate, comes a book that seems to insist itself into being, one that rises from the heartbreakingly silent depths of the voiceless. SECRETS WE KEPT is that book. It is a love song to the author's Trinidadian mother and grandmother, yes, but it is also a hymn of justice to the ignored and forgotten wounds of enduring and resilient women throughout the ages. It is a tribute to truth in the face of denial. It is a deeply resonant, timely, and necessary work of art.
Andre Dubus III, author of Dirty Love & Townie