Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Review: Breath, Eyes, Memory

"I come from a place where breath, eyes and memory are one, a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your head. Where women return to their children as butterflies or as tears in the eyes of the statues that their daughters pray to."

We've all had Haiti on our minds and in our hearts in this past year. Breath, Eyes, Memory takes us through the hordes of hurting Haitians to one small family: Sophie Caco, her aunt, her mother, and her grandmother. Sophie has been raised by her aunt and has no recollection of her mother, who went to the U.S. for work when Sophie was a toddler. Out of the blue for Sophie, her mother requests that she come live with her in New York, and Sophie has no choice but to go. She has no idea how dangerous living in Haiti is; she only knows that it is her home.

While the Haitian scenes in the novel are warm and colorful, the New York chapters are harsh and cold. Life is not good for Sophie in New York, and her relationship with her mother is confusing and strained. Sophie's mother begins revealing horrifying secrets, and ultimately causes Sophie to teeter on the edge between survival and utter dysfunction.

Edwidge Danticat is a lovely writer. With few words, she paints a vivid portrait of life in Haiti, both in its simplicity (ginger tea) and in its terror (rebel soldiers). This isn't an easy novel to read emotionally. The struggle of the Haitian people and of individuals trapped in a cycle of fearful tradition is not light reading, and some of the scenes are graphic, violent, and painful.

If you are looking for a happily-ever-after beach read, don't get this one. Otherwise, grab a copy and be prepared to be uncomfortable—but enriched.

Other Reviews of Breath, Eyes, Memory
Jenny's Books
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Things Mean A Lot


Amanda said...

I've had this one around for awhile and really need to get to it. It sounds beautiful.

Laura said...

Danticat is an amazing author. I've also read The Dewbreaker and Brother, I'm Dying which were equally as good as Breath, Eyes, Memory.

Leslie said...

This has been in my TBR pile since the beginning of the year. Would it make a good read for a book club? I really want to learn more about Haiti.

Ana S. said...

"Uncomfortable but enriched" perfectly sums up my experience with this book. Thank you for including my link!