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The story begins in Haiti, on Mother's Day, when young Sophie discovers that she is about to leave the only home she has ever known with her Tante Atie in Croix-des-Rosets, Haiti, to go live with her mother in New York City. These early chapters in Haiti are lovely, subtly evoking the tender, painful relationship between the motherless child and the childless woman who feels honor bound to guard the natural mother's rights to the girl's affections above her own. Presented with a Mother's Day card, Tante Atie responds: "'It is for a mother, your mother.' She motioned me away with a wave of her hand. 'When it is Aunt's Day, you can make me one.'" Danticat also uses these pages to limn a vibrant portrait of life in Haiti from the cups of ginger tea and baskets of cassava bread served at community potlucks to the folk tales of a "people in Guinea who carry the sky on their heads."
With Sophie's transition from a fairly happy existence with her aunt and grandmother in rural Haiti to life in New York with a mother she has never seen, Danticat's roots as a short-story writer become more evident; "Breath, Eyes, Memory" begins to read more like a collection of connected stories than a seamlessly evolved novel. In a couple of short chapters, Sophie arrives in New York, meets her mother, makes the acquaintance of her mother's new boyfriend, Marc, and discovers that she was the product of a rape when her mother was a teenager in Haiti. The novel then jumps several years ahead to Sophie's graduation from high school and her infatuation with an older man who lives next door. Unfortunately, this is also the point in the novel where Danticat begins to lay her themes on with a trowel instead of a brush: Sophie's mother becomes obsessed with protecting her daughter's virginity, going so far as to administer physical "tests" on a regular basis--testing which leads eventually to a rift in their relationship and to Sophie's struggle with her own sexuality. Soon the litany of victimization is flying thick and fast: female genital mutilation, incest, rape, frigidity, breast cancer, and abortion are the issues that arise in the final third of the novel, eventually drowning both fine writing and perceptive characterization under a deluge of angst.
Still, there is much to admire about "Breath, Eyes, Memory," and if at times the plot becomes overheated, Danticat's lyrical, vivid prose offers some real delight. If nothing else, this novel is sure to entice readers to look for Danticat's short stories--and possibly to sample other fiction from the West Indies as well. --Alix Wilber
This is a wonderful book, and I enjoyed looking into the culture of Haiti, which I knew very little about.
The novel is well-written and lyrical - perhaps too much so, I got lost in the description sometimes, and found my mind wandering.
Edwidge Danticat's novels and stories are written in a style that could only be told through her lyrical evocative prose.
I rarely put a book down without finishing it, but this one came close. However I am glad I persevered. The story was good. The characters were okay. Read morePublished 9 days ago by Chris Schilling
This should be required reading in high school. This is a powerful, moving story and the writer captivated me in the first few pages. I could hear the ground beneath my feet. Read morePublished 27 days ago by liz
I read this for class and it was okay. It wasn't the best book we read that semester.
*Read months ago, no full review*
I really enjoyed reading this book. I was able to relate to some aspect of the book. Captures the story of a relationship between a mother and a daughterPublished 2 months ago by Madison
A great book that takes you into the culture of a Hatian girl growing up.Published 2 months ago by Marina F. Zuk
I LOVED THIS BOOK. It was the second I have read by this author and it kept me captivated as much as the first. Read morePublished 3 months ago by abiddings