Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review - Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat
published 2007
269 pages

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.

My thoughts:

This is a gorgeous, heartbreaking work. Danticat's story of the two men who raised her is both brutal and beautiful. She grew up in Haiti and the US during a time of great upheaval in her native country, and her family struggled to live through the fighting and unrest. The shadow of death is present throughout the entirety of the book, from the time Edwidge and her brother Bob are young children to the death of her father at the end of the story, and yet it never seems depressing or bleak. Rather, Danticat shows readers how a family comes together during the worst of times, loves each other through hell and back again, and remains hopeful when things look blackest.

She has written a love story on so many levels - love of country, love of family, love between husband and wife, father and daughter. Her writing is beautiful but not showy, exquisite but not self-conscious. Her story is quiet, and that is where it packs it's punch - those quiet moments in between the excitement, where she pierces your heart with her words.

"When you hear that someone has died whom you've not seen in a long time, it's not too difficult to pretend that it hasn't really happened, that the person is continuing to live just as she has before, in your absence, out of your sight. The day of Marie Micheline's funeral, when I spoke to my uncle on the phone, I experienced the biggest failing of his new voice. Like distance, it masked pain. Still, his pauses were like sobs, the expansion or contraction of his words mechanical traces of sorrow." (p. 135-136)

I do like nonfiction, so it wasn't a surprise to me that I enjoyed this book. But I think it would be a good introduction to the genre for a reader who isn't sure where to start - it has family drama, and the setting in Haiti has current interest for anyone who pays attention to the news. I found this to be an excellent read - highly recommended!

Finished: 3/17/11
Source: my mom
MPAA rating: PG-13 for tension and violence
My rating: 8/10


bermudaonion said...

This is exactly the kind of nonfiction I love. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Zibilee said...

I have heard a little about this book and have been wondering if it would be something I would like. Your review was powerfully moving and has made me really eager to try out this book!

Jenners said...

Hi...long time, no see! Nice to be here again. This does sound like a very touching and gut-wrenching book. The title just grabs me.

Lauralee said...

Author has cool name.

Bianchii said...

I started to write blog in English.
I will write about everythinkg, will be a lot of pictures, reviews of books, films, songs etc.
So it would be nice if you visit my blog sometimes :)
(Sorry for mistakes, I'm still learning English)

Elizabeth said...

Bermuda - I hope you get a chance to read it. Such a compelling story.

Zibilee - Get it!! You will love it - can't wait to read your review!

Jenners - thanks, it's nice to be back on a (semi) regular basis. It IS a great title, huh?

Mary Lynn said...

In the interest of full disclosure, yes, this book came from her mother - - - who received it from her daughter. ;-)