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4 out of 5 stars
Breath, Eyes, Memory (Oprah's Book Club)
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Wow. A pause while I catch my breath...
Edwidge Danticat has written an exceptional and beautifully crafted novel about a young Haitian girl and the family of women that surround her. A somber, spiritual story told with a feverish tenacity that will bewitch you and leave you aching for more from this talented and gifted writer.
After twelve years of being raised in Haiti by her aunt Atie, young Sophie Caco has been summoned by her mother to join her in New York. Sophie is terrified and does not want to go, especially since she does not remember her mother, who left Haiti when Sophie was just a baby. What follows is a painful rendering of horrifying secrets and Haitian tradition that deeply affects Sophie and the way she lives her life. Finally, frantic for justification and healing, Sophie turns to her homeland for the answers and refuge she so desperately needs.
The flow of the writing is smooth and lyrical, like music that rolls off the tongue. There is just enough description to make vivid pictures, but not too much to overwhelm. I do find it lacking in the development of the relationship between Sophie and her mother, although not enough to interrupt the beauty and quality of the story. Readers will be awed at the strong determination of the Caco women and the unbreakable bonds that hold them together. A very poetic and powerful novel that mixes a family, their culture, and a country in the midst of political upheaval. Breath, Eyes, Memory is extraordinary.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
I truly enjoyed the first third of this book. Edwidge Danticat is a talented writer whose lyrical prose effectively transports the reader into the rhythms Haitian life. The imagery is powerful and can be profoundly moving. Unfortunately, I found that this promising start was irrevocably marred by the overblown ending. Issues that Danticat addresses in the last half of the book include rape, sexual abuse, bulimia, abortion and breast cancer. Any one or even two of these issues would have given the story the dramatic punch the author was looking for. Two very marginal characters - one with genital mutilation and one with a history of incest - read like they were added to the story just to cover all the bases of female degredation. There are so many ingredients in this stew of suffering that the reader is unable feel completely sympathetic to the victim of any one. My predominant response to this book was disappointment that it didn't live up to its promising beginning.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book and the depth to which the author delves in order to allow us to have a glimpse into the life of a Haitian woman. Sophie is at the heart of this novel and we see her growing up with her aunt, in Haiti, while her mother lives in the U.S. Suddenly, Sophie is called for, by her mother, and she must go to a country that is foreign to her and live with a woman she doesn't know. Sophie then learns the truth about her birth and the trauma that her mother has endured for years while at the same time learning to become a woman in her own right.
The only flaw I can find in this book is that more character development was needed. I wanted to learn more about the aunt that raised her and the relationship between Sophie and her mother was never fully examined.
The writing however was beautiful and I enjoyed that aspect of it immensely. Danticat makes each of us realize that family can give us much strength but we need to make the change within ourself in order to become a stronger person. Sometimes a cycle within a family needs to be broken. Thankfully Sophie realizes this power and seizes it.
Definitely a novel worth the read.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat's first novel, is a stirring story of Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora. Sophie, the main character, has much in common with her native country: confusion about her parentage, difficulty adjusting to different people's rights of sovereignty over her, violence in her past, duty in her present, and hope in her future. As one reviewer below has said, the characters are dysfunctional. That's kind of the whole point: in a nation such as Haiti (set just before the fall of Baby Doc), where terrorism and poverty reigned, it's impossible for the majority of people to be fully "okay" psychologically and/or physically. Leaving for what one hopes will be a better life in the United States in many cases only adds to the sense of dispossession felt by immigrating Haitians. Read this book not to find the psychological connection between rape and sexual dysfunction, but instead to find the balance of fear facing the people of Haiti, both at home and abroad. Pay attention near the end and catch a "cameo" by Aristide while he was still just a rebel priest. Note: If you have read Danticat's The Farming of Bones, you will find this novel to be much more mainstream in its narrative structure. This may be a better first book to read by Danticat, as The Farming of Bones is less straightforward.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This is less a novel than a string of episodes from a young Haitian woman's life and I enjoyed the first two sections, but was really disappointed as the writer lost control of her text in the later stages. The story starts in Haiti where twelve year old Sophie has been raised by her aunt, Tante Atie, while her mother supports the family with a job in New York. But now her mother wants Sophie to come and join her. There's a beautifully detailed portrait of country life in Haiti here and the separation of Sophie and Atie is genuinely heart rending.
The next section details the tentative first steps of Sophie and her mother as they feel out the parameters of a mother-daughter relationship. This is complicated by the fact that Sophie was the product of her mother being raped as a teenager by a Tonton Macout.
This transition from Haiti to New York is fine and would be a solid basis for a novel, but Danticat now starts skipping forward in large chunks of time. Suddenly, Sophie is 18 and enamored of an older neighbor who is a musician. Her scandalized mother begins to probe her nightly to establish that she has maintained her virginity. Tempers explode and we skip ahead again. Sophie has married the musician and had a child, but she's estranged from her mother, has developed sexual phobias and has fled to Haiti with her child. From here the novel descends into all the worst topicality of the 90's and we see how it made Oprah's Book Club. We're immersed in bulimia, sexual dysfunction, female genital mutilation, therapy, suicide, etc.
Ultimately, after a strong and promising beginning, I have to say that the author lost me. I appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to a side of Haitian life that we rarely see, but then we're buried in a blizzard of psychoblither. I expect to see better from this author in the future.
GRADE: C-
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
While the imagery of Haiti and its topography are very vivid and stimulating, Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory was not one of the best picks for Oprah's Book Club and was certainly not a best pick for me. This book left me feeling as if Danticat lost control of the story in the middle of the book. Her exploration of the trauma that "testing" for female purity and chastity was nowhere near as powerful as I believe she meant it to be. As an African American woman raised in the 70s and 80s, I cannot imagine how traumatic a situation like that could have been, but Danticat doesn't give you anything to go on either. It is shallow in its attempt to unearth the real scarring and suffering that accompanies this type of personal violation. As far as the relationships between the women in the story go, for them to be kin, I found their lack of connection disturbing. With the exception of the severed ties between Sophie and her mother, the lack of connection between Tante Atie and the grandmother is almost too much to be believed. I understand that the lack of trust in one's word regarding chastity and virtue contributes to the chasm, but the utter disregard for their familial ties is too overdone (loyalty to one's kin out of duty). As I stated in my title, Breath, Eyes, Memory is truly "Gasping, Blind, and Forgetable".
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This is less a novel than a string of episodes from a young Haitian woman's life and I enjoyed the first two sections, but was really disappointed as the writer lost control of her text in the later stages. The story starts in Haiti where twelve year old Sophie has been raised by her aunt, Tante Atie, while her mother supports the family with a job in New York. But now her mother wants Sophie to come and join her. There's a beautifully detailed portrait of country life in Haiti here and the separation of Sophie and Atie is genuinely heart rending.
The next section details the tentative first steps of Sophie and her mother as they feel out the parameters of a mother-daughter relationship. This is complicated by the fact that Sophie was the product of her mother being raped as a teenager by a Tonton Macout.
This transition from Haiti to New York is fine and would be a solid basis for a novel, but Danticat now starts skipping forward in large chunks of time. Suddenly, Sophie is 18 and enamored of an older neighbor who is a musician. Her scandalized mother begins to probe her nightly to establish that she has maintained her virginity. Tempers explode and we skip ahead again. Sophie has married the musician and had a child, but she's estranged from her mother, has developed sexual phobias and has fled to Haiti with her child. From here the novel descends into all the worst topicality of the 90's and we see how it made Oprah's Book Club. We're immersed in bulimia, sexual dysfunction, female genital mutilation, therapy, suicide, etc.
Ultimately, after a strong and promising beginning, I have to say that the author lost me. I appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to a side of Haitian life that we rarely see, but then we're buried in a blizzard of psychoblither. I expect to see better from this author in the future.
GRADE: C-
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
While the first part of this novel appeared to hold great promise, I admit to being disappointed overall. Although I know I was supposed to feel great empathy for the main characters, I never got there. Much of the character development was woefully lacking, and the vast jumps in time (practically just pages between the childhood and adulthood of Sophie for example), did not make getting to know these people any easier. This novel needed to be considerably longer, with much more detail as to the motivations for the characters actions. The ending felt hurried to me; a plethora of social ills dumped again into a few short pages. All this said, I believe the author does possess talent and as I understand this is her first novel perhaps that skill will emerge more clearly as she matures as a writer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
The synopsis of the book is much better than the book itself. It drew me to my local library where I checked it out and read it quickly, too quickly. A book that deals with the themes tackled by this author should never be able to be read that quickly.
I was enchanted with the book until Sophie goes to New York. Then, it falls apart. Danticat has much to work with, too much, it seems, and she can't make a go of it. The best she can do is jump wildly from subject to subject and try to blend them skillfully with Sophie's formative, adolescent, and adult years. She fails, which is unfortunate. I like her themes, I even applaud them, but I get the feeling that she is too impatient for the reader to 'get it' so she has to stick her head out from backstage and scream at her audience "This is what I'm saying! Do you get it!" I got it, like a ton of bricks.
The next time this author sets out to make a statement, maybe she should deal with only one or two major themes a weave them a little more gracefully into her story line. Give your readers some credit, Danticat, some of us can read between the lines.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I was hesitant to read this book since it was an Oprah Book Club pick. Sometimes her books are very deep and thought inspiring and, while that is a good thing, I wasn't looking for that when I picked a book to read! Nonetheless, I picked it up and delved in.

I really expected a heart wrenching tale of a child (Sophie) struggling to make it in America while connecting with a mom she didn't know and missing a family back in Haiti that she was ripped away from. I didn't get that. A lot of her time in America was glossed over; her internal struggles weren't really relayed and the development of a relationship with her mom never did play out like I thought it would.

The author's writing is very simplistic. It's easy to follow--almost too easy! I felt like I was reading a book that was aimed towards a different generation (like teens maybe?)... I LIKED the book, but I didn't love it. Many parts of the book I found interesting - I loved reading about Haiti, the people, the tales, scenery, etc. I really wanted more out of this book though. There was one shocker at the end that really threw me but other than that it was just an O.K. read. Am I glad I read it? Yes... Would I hold on to it to read again? No.
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