September 2007

Danticat’s story of family and loss

By Edwidge Danticat
Review by
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Family can be inscrutable, a mystery sometimes better solved by describing events than by analyzing motives. Edwidge Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory; The Dew Breaker) describes her family history in Brother, I'm Dying with a dispassion that only adds to the drama of childhood memories and snippets of family lore learned out of sequence and in fragments. Opening with the news that she's pregnant with her first child, Danticat now married and living in Miami uses that pivotal moment to travel back and forth from the recent past into a childhood of abandonment and violence in Haiti. Love and danger blend together as she is brought up by an aunt and minister-uncle in a hilltop neighborhood overlooking Port-au-Prince harbor.

With intense, weary affection, Danticat details the close relationship between her father, his brother and the daughter Edwidge they raised together across a sea, recreating a few wonderous and terrible months when their lives and mine intersected in startling ways, forcing me to look forward and back in both celebration and despair. The despair is caused both by civil uprisings in Port-au-Prince and the upheaval in her family. Young Danticat lives orphaned among a sibling, aunt, uncle, far-flung cousins and disenfranchised neighbors, abandoned by parents who emigrated to New York. Adrift in poverty and exile, her father and uncle remain devotedly bound to each other and family, despite their infrequent communications (phones are hard to come by in Haiti) and differing views of the future.

Danticat's father left to become a taxi driver in New York because he didn't see a future in Haiti, and her uncle stubbornly remained behind despite the dangers because he couldn't abandon his role in the island's future. Eventually, Edwidge and her brother join the family (and two new siblings) in New York, but leaving her beloved uncle and her homeland prove difficult. The brutalities of war and immigration and the grace of strong family ties are scorched into Danticat's intimate and aching story.

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Brother, I’m Dying

Brother, I’m Dying

By Edwidge Danticat
ISBN 9781400041152

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