Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticatt. You can read my first post about the book here.

Synopsis from publisher:

From the best-selling author of The Dew Breaker, a major work of nonfiction: a powerfully moving family story that centers around the men closest to her heart — her father, Mira, and his older brother, Joseph.

From the age of four, Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph, a charismatic pastor, as her "second father," when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for a better life in America. Listening to his sermons, sharing coconut-flavored ices on their walks through town, roaming through the house that held together many members of a colorful extended family, Edwidge grew profoundly attached to Joseph. He was the man who "knew all the verses for love."

And so she experiences a jumble of emotions when, at twelve, she joins her parents in New York City. She is at last reunited with her two youngest brothers, and with her mother and father, whom she has struggled to remember. But she must also leave behind Joseph and the only home she's ever known.

Edwidge tells of making a new life in a new country while fearing for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorates. But Brother I'm Dying soon becomes a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Late in 2004, his life threatened by an angry mob, forced to flee his church, the frail, eighty-one-year-old Joseph makes his way to Miami, where he thinks he will be safe. Instead, he is detained by U.S. Customs, held by the Department of Homeland Security, brutally imprisoned, and dead within days. It was a story that made headlines around the world. His brother, Mira, will soon join him in death, but not before he holds hope in his arms: Edwidge's firstborn, who will bear his name — and the family's stories, both joyous and tragic — into the next generation.

Told with tremendous feeling, this is a true-life epic on an intimate scale: a deeply affecting story of home and family — of two men's lives and deaths, and of a daughter's great love for them both.

My thoughts so far:

In this section of the book, Danticatt tells two stories that illustrate clearly the struggles and dangers of life in Haiti in the 1970s. The first story, about her cousin Marie Micheline, shows the political turmoil that characterized the era.

Unwed and pregnant, Marie is sent away to live with relatives in a remote village so she won't bring shame to Uncle Joseph in the eyes of his congregation. While away, she gives birth to a daughter, and marries a young man willing to adopt her new baby.

However, her new husband joins the Tonton Macoutes, a group of pseudo-soldiers sanctioned by the government who are basically given free reign to terrorize the citizens of Haiti. When he decides he doesn't like Marie's behavior, he tells her she is not allowed to see anyone, and hides her away from her family. Uncle Joseph decides to rescue her, and finds her beaten and sick, with a husband who has many such girls in similar situations. He has to sneak her away in secret, because if her husband found out he could exact whatever revenge he desired, with no repercussions. The fear and secrecy perpetrated by the Macoutes was palpable - Joseph clearly risked his life to save Marie.

The second story was of how Edwidge and her brother, Bob, were finally able to join their parents in America. After several rounds of medical testing, it was determined that both children had non-reactive tuberculosis. After six long months of treatment, the consulate finally decided to allow the children to move to America. Unsure of whether or not they would ever see their family in Haiti again, Edwidge and Bob board a plane to a new country, and a new life.

Again in this section of the book, the author illustrates how her family was acquainted with the specter of death. Marie is nearly killed by her husband. Edwidge and Bob are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, and then must board a plane - alone - with all the uncertainty that entails. She continuously weaves the shadow of death through the story, but it never seems grisly or bleak - it is, once again, just a part of life.

This is such a good book. I'm at the halfway point now, and might have to read the rest of it all at once. It's the kind of book that is hard to put down - the writing is good, and the story so interesting. You should probably go get this one.....=)

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