8Books Review: Secrets We Kept by Krystal Sital

Krystal Sital’s debut memoir, Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad, is an intimate and powerful memoir about three generations of her family — their stories, their traumas, their secrets, and their relationship to the author’s grandfather. Eloquently written and deeply personal, Sital dives deep into her own history, the contradictions, and the troublesome relationships between men and women that powerfully shaped her grandmother and then her mother’s lives on the island they were all born on.

Trinidad is our fears and our loves. There we discovered our beings, we dug deep and planted our roots assuming we would never leave, sucking on the armored cascara with its silver-plaited shell, devouring the sweet flesh beneath, the only fish the legend says ties you to the land forevermore, smacking our lips when we were done. We never thought we would have to leave this place . . . But in the end we chose to flee.

A story of diaspora and migration, it is also about family and obligations and culture and tradition. Their flaws and freedoms. Shiva Singh, the author’s grandfather and a wealthy Hindu landowner, is the circle around which much of the book revolves. As he lies in a hospital in New Jersey, Sital watches her mother and grandmother cope with the decisions of his care. It leads to a slow unraveling of her mother’s story, of her childhood, her relationship with the man lying prone in a hospital bed undergoing weeks of surgery. A brutal past full of trauma, beatings, and terror.

The memoir travels back and forth between care of her grandfather in the near present, to the distant path. Her mother’s life growing up on the family farm, and back to the present. The author herself is unraveling the stories of a past never talked about, of violence and expectations, that weave their ways into the present sometimes in confusing and contradictory ways. In this way, the reader accompanies Sital on her personal journey. If the title is secrets we kept, the writing becomes stories we tell. Perhaps never before out loud, but here in this book, there is unflinching honesty. The anguish of these memories, of how they shaped each woman’s identity and choices in life, are evident throughout. Sital includes her family’s patois, switching between this and a more traditional narrator, allowing voices to bleed through.

On one hand e use too real take care ah we, and on de net e use too rheally mistreat Mammy, my mother tells me as she simmers coconut milk, garlic, and taro leaves for callaloo on the stovetop. Not juss de beatin and ting. Mentally too, yuh know? It was juss confusin for meh, Krys, how tho feel bout im.

A heart-wrenching memoir, Secrets We Kept is worth a read for its honesty, for its emotional journey through one family’s history and secrets and the bond between three generations of women.


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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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