Krystal A. Sital ’10 Publishes Her First Book

Krystal A. Sital ’10 Publishes Her First Book

With her just released, debut memoir, “Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad,” NJCU alumna Krystal A. Sital is emerging as a powerful Caribbean literary voice, telling a heartrending story of the brutal physical abuse her mother and grandmother endured at the hands of her grandfather.

It is a narrative Sital, a native of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, began crafting in 2008, nearly a decade after she and her family moved to the United States to avoid crime and a stagnant economy that was prevalent on the island. They initially settled in the Jersey City home of her grandparents, who relocated there several years before.

Sital started penning the memoir while taking a class in memoir writing when she was an undergraduate student at NJCU. She was taking a double major in Creative Writing and Psychology. By that time, her grandfather, Shiva, a wealthy Hindu landowner, was an invalid after suffering a fall and undergoing several brain surgeries. He was being cared for by the women he had brutalized.

Sital sowed the first seeds for the memoir during a conversation with her mother, Arya, when Sital was 21 years old. “I asked one question,” she said, recalling her mother had just returned after an exhausting day from her job as a nanny to four children. “And she and my grandmother just started volunteering these stories.”

The very first story, from Sital’s mother, was a horrific account of a vicious beating Arya, as a child, watched her father inflict on her mother, at one point using a knotted rope drenched in gasoline. “It was a story that took hours for her to tell me,” Sital said.

“I think they started telling me stories because my grandfather could no longer say or do anything to them,” said Sital. The author added no one had ever asked either woman about their traumatic past with domestic violence until Sital started asking questions. “The fact that I was interested and willing to ask more questions – that alone kept them telling me more stories.”

Through these many exchanges, Sital began to piece together a portrait of her grandfather that was vastly at odds with her own experiences with him. “He was always so very, very nice to me,” she recalled. “He was very protective of me.”

In explaining how she reconciled these conflicting versions of her grandfather, Sital said, “By the time I got to the end of the book and, knowing it as a complete story, I was able to step back and I found a kind of peace in allowing my mother’s story to be her story and her own relationship with her dad, and I had my own relationship with my grandfather.”

The author’s relationship with her mother and grandmother, Rebecca, grew closer as her elders shared their stories of abuse. The two women were also relieved they could finally speak up, unlike so many other women of Trinidad, the history of which is filled with a tolerance for domestic abuse.

“These are stories that people don’t like to talk about and yet they’re so important,” said Sital, “because women all over the world can relate to these stories and often they are not recorded. Women overall are not represented in literature the way men are. I want to change this historic silence. I want them to get their voices back, especially in the Caribbean.”

“We need to keep talking about domestic violence and not hide it,” said Sital. Her foremothers’ experiences profoundly influenced Sital’s own path to married life with computer programmer Pawel Grzech, her husband of nine years.

“We met on the first day of high school and were friends for nine or 10 years before we got married,” she said. “My mother and grandmother sacrificed so much so that I could choose what I wanted. Their sacrifices were why I was very careful about who I would choose to marry.”

Sital, a mother of three, refers to “Secrets We Kept” as “my fourth baby.” She is currently working on a novel about a group of immigrant families who are neighbors in the same apartment building in a New Jersey town. She is also a freelance journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Salon, Today’s Parent, The Margins, Brain Child, The Caribbean Writer, and elsewhere. Sital is a PEN Award finalist and was a Hertog Fellow at Hunter College, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction.

Edvige Giunta, the English professor who taught Sital as part of that long-ago memoir class and who Sital calls her mentor to this day, is not surprised by her former student’s literary success.

“I read her memoir and I am in awe of what an incredibly mature, lyrical, confident, and visionary writer she’s grown into,” Giunta said. “Krystal was special from day one. I just knew she was going to become a published writer. I would tell her back then when she was a student, ‘I can’t wait to teach your book!’ And now I am teaching about her book in my classroom.”

Sital and Giunta have become colleagues at NJCU. Sital has worked as an adjunct professor at the University for several years, teaching courses in the English Department, the Women’s and Genders Studies Program, and the Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies Program.

“I love, love, love NJCU,” Sital said. “It is a place like no other in its sense of community and support. And no two students are alike.”