A debut collection from Danticat (the novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, 1994) that movingly brings to life the history, hopes, and human experience of Haitians. Separation is the central fact of life for Danticat's characters. The isolated speakers of "Children of the Sea" are lovers, one of whom flees Haiti on a rickety boat while the other remains on the island hiding from terrorizing soldiers. They are doomed never again to be together in the flesh. Yet the story itself -- the very act of Danticat's writing (mirrored in the refugee's journal-keeping) -- permits their union, grants a space in which their voices mingle in an elegant duet. Where writing can't serve as a weapon against oblivion, there is hope, though this is double-edged. For Guy, the unemployed factory worker in "A Wall of Fire Rising," a hot-air balloon represents an escape from devastating poverty, but the story ends by showing the bitter irony of his wish for flight. Most impressive is the dignity that the author reveals in her characters' spirituality. Omens and superstitions abound, which upper-class Haitians dismiss as "voodoo nonsense that's holding us back." Danticat shows the wisdom and poignancy of these beliefs. The red panties that the mother in "Caroline's Wedding" commands her daughters to wear serve ostensibly to ward off sexual advances from their dead father's spirit. They are also an intimate form of mourning his loss. "When you write," explains the speaker of "Epilogue: Women Like Us," "it's like braiding your hair. Taking a handful of coarse strands and attempting to bring them unity....Some of the braids are long, others short. Some are thick, others are thin." The remark describes this young Haitian writer's restless style, which is lyrical and elegiac, gothic and simple, sometimes all at once. Consistent, however, is her powerful empathy for her characters. Danticat's fiction is an antidote to headline abstractions, giving readers the gift of narrative through which to experience a people and a country as more than mere news.