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68 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of Love, migration and injustice
Edwidge tells the story of a modern Haitian family, her family, with great love and courage. In addition to Edwidge's family's personal events, the year 2004 was a year of great sadness and emotion for Haiti and Haitians. It was a year that was to be the celebration of the country's 200th. birthday. Haitians were full of anger at the political situation and sadness at...
Published on September 16, 2007 by Josiane H. Barnes

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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted and worthwhile but hard to engage
Stories of Haiti and its people are important but marginalized in most of the US. This book tells one such story in a spare and elegant way through the experience of Edwidge Danticat's family. The family, and by implication Haiti itself, is portrayed as a complex mixture of vibrancy, bad luck, love, and victimization. The US stirs that mixture in both big and small...
Published on June 5, 2009 by A. M. Guest


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68 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Of Love, migration and injustice, September 16, 2007
This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Hardcover)
Edwidge tells the story of a modern Haitian family, her family, with great love and courage. In addition to Edwidge's family's personal events, the year 2004 was a year of great sadness and emotion for Haiti and Haitians. It was a year that was to be the celebration of the country's 200th. birthday. Haitians were full of anger at the political situation and sadness at their inability to celebrate one of the major reasons for Haitian pride, our great history. There were also terrible natural disasters, floods that killed more people than 9/11 did. It was a sad year and Edwidge was having her first baby.
While it is often said that Haitians in the US are not political refugees but economic refugees, this book shows us that family life is tied to political life. And in the face of the political and economic situation, some make the choice to emigrate at any cost as Edwidge's biological father did, and some make the choice of serving their community in Haiti as Edwidge's surrogate father and uncle did. Each man expresses love for the family in his own way either as a provider of financial support or a provider of every day love. Uncle Joseph stayed in Haiti as long as he could. When the day came that his own home was destroyed and his life was directly threatened, he decided to go to the US with no return date. That's how he encountered his death: a family man alone in a foreign hospital, shackled, voiceless, and abandoned, because he made the mistake of asking for political asylum.
For most Americans this story will be an introduction to a type of life common to many Haitians, a life of dedication to family and of cultural transitions. Edwidge's family is a hybrid of true Haitians and true Americans. As Americans they believed in respect for national institutions. But Joseph Dantica's death showed the ugly face of the Immigration Service as an institution; an institution whose clients are all voiceless, like uncle Joseph. In his life as a throat cancer survivor and in his death Edwidge becomes his voice. A beautiful voice.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Personal insight you are not going to find anywhere else, December 4, 2007
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Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Hardcover)
Like Bill Maher says, if you're not embarrassed being an American these days, then you must be dead. Edwidge Danticat's memoir BROTHER, I'M DYING, this year's National Book Award finalist, never points a "shame on you" finger at anyone. But once you've digested the dramatic, poignant and unsentimental experiences of her beautiful book, you will be ashamed and disgusted by America's kneejerk reactions to the many people who flock to this nation thinking it is still the land of opportunity.

Edwidge's parents left her native Haiti when she was four years old, for the America of old where they might escape the oppressive strictures of the Duvalier government and make their way in a world of freedom and opportunity. Her parents left her and her brother in the care of her uncle Joseph, a man who profoundly affected the person she grew up to be. She calls him the man who "knew all the verses for love." (Who wouldn't want such an epitaph?) Until she was 12, he and his family guided her as one of their own. As an enthusiastic pastor, he made moral lessons sing for her and was able to encourage her interests in nursing as well as writing. At the age of 12, however, her parents called her to New York, where she was reunited with her younger siblings and the father she had barely known before.

Leaving behind Joseph and her colorful extended family was exceedingly difficult and emotional for her. In fact, once she left, Joseph was stricken with an illness that kept him from speaking --- so Edwidge and her brother who had lived with him could not even talk to him by phone. She concentrated instead on her studies while fearing more and more each day the deteriorating political system in her homeland. Finally, in 2004, Joseph, having survived threats of great physical violence at the hands of roving gangs in Haiti, decided to join the rest of the family in the U.S.

At the age of 81, he makes his way to Miami, where he is detained by Homeland Security, brutally imprisoned and fatally wounded. Edwidge's father is then told that he has little time to live on the same day that Edwidge finds out she is pregnant with her first child. The baby who will bear his name keeps him alive until shortly after his birth. Then the writer bravely struggles on, mourning the deaths of the two men most important to her while basking in the glow of motherhood.

Is this an amazing story or what? As a piece of fiction, surely Danticat would have brought her usually strong prose to make it come alive. But here in BROTHER, I'M DYING, the fact that this is the actual story of her life with these men is both fantastical and heartbreaking. The restraint that she exercises in not pointing fingers at our strident and fascistic post-9/11 government and with which she discusses situations that would bring most spiritual people to their knees in anger is beyond admirable --- it is downright remarkable. The soul of this woman is spread across these pages with a determination and urgency that is unforgettable.

BROTHER, I'M DYING explores the slippery slope of fear and loathing in our contemporary culture with a personal insight you are not going to find anywhere else. This is one memoir that Oprah should be forcing on the public --- we can all learn a great deal about real unconditional love and patience from this powerful artist.

--- Reviewed by Jana Siciliano
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Beautiful, September 23, 2007
This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Hardcover)
So far, this is my favorite book by Danticat (I've read them all). It drew me in completely. And although I knew from the title that at least one life would be lost by the close of the book, I was unable to stop reading.I kept thinking that her father and uncle, not to mention the rest of her family must be very proud of her for writing such a beautiful eulogy. I also believe that the Haitian people who live with this suffering are also glad. Good work, Edwidge.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Book, Yes, But Also an Important Book, August 17, 2008
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This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Hardcover)
Edwidge Danticat is possibly the best American fiction writer of the younger generation. Her novels and story collections have cut a broad swath through the history of 20th century Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. Their virtues include lyric and narrative pleasures, a plainspoken and elegant voice, intelligence and intelligibility, and the bridging of two cultures separated by language and mutual misunderstanding.

With Brother, I'm Dying, Danticat expands upon the gift for nonfiction she first demonstrated in her book about carnival in Jacmel. This time, she tackles memoir by way of family history, a private story that stands in for hundreds of thousands of other private stories and has deep public policy implications. Through the Dantica and Danticat families, we get an up-close-and-personal look at the terrors of Haitian history from Papa Doc to the present, alongside the beauties of place and people too often underexplored in newspaper accounts of Haiti.

The book's velocity increases toward the end, when Danticat's uncle is run out of Port-au-Prince by street gangs, only to encounter the surprisingly deadlier American immigration system. This part of the story is the most deeply felt section of a deeply felt book, and the reader wants to scream with outrage and the indignities Danticat's uncle suffers, and especially at the unwillingness of the immigration authorities to respond humanely to his illness, his difficulties in communicating, or his family's quite reasonable requests that he receive proper medical and legal attention.

I find myself grieving now, after finishing this book, and I want to know what I can do to make my country more compassionate. Certainly, Haitians receive shabbier treatment than almost any other ethnicity in our immigration and legal system, and, like Danticat, I find myself wondering why, and suspecting that it might be a manifestation of the worst prejudices we have not yet laid to rest.

It is true that books can be about virtuous things without being very good, but the urgency the reader feels about the book's subject owes much to the extraordinary power of the writing. If Danticat were a writer who chose subject matter of a lesser intensity, I believe that more critics would write about the sentences, the structural choices, the wise management of information in her books. That they do not is a testament to the power of the stories she chooses to tell, and her ability to get out of the way and give character and story center stage rather than the pyrotechnics of language which she is certainly capable of exhibiting.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tale of Two Fathers, October 31, 2007
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This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Hardcover)
this is an extraordinary book. It just might be the most touching tribute to a father I have ever read. The author was raised by her uncle and aunt in Haiti, when her parents were required to immigrate to the U.S. I was really moved by the affection she writes about each of these men and their loving care for her. The sections of the book that describe these two brothers reunion in Brooklyn are heartwarming. There is real tragedy in this story, yet, triumphant spirit of love in this families trials in war torn Haiti and in the United States. This is a wonderful book.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple lives, exquisitely portrayed, September 17, 2007
This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Hardcover)
This book is one of Ms. Danticat's finest works. If you loved her work so far, you won't be disappointed with this book. As in her other books, her writing literally sings, sometimes mournful tunes, sometimes pretty ditties. Whatever the tone of the "music," it's wonderful. As is this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Weep for America, October 21, 2007
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This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Hardcover)
When I read this extra ordinary account her family struggles, I wept for America. I wept for the way not only Haitians but immigrants from other countries are treated without dignity by fellow humans. Edwidge, thank you for sharing your Uncle's story. I am so glad his copious notes will be read by millions around the world.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pitit moun se lave yon bò, kite yon bò., January 15, 2009
This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Vintage Contemporaries) (Paperback)
Edwidge Danticat's "Brother, I'm Dying" was named the National Book Critics Circle's winner of its award for autobiography. In truth, though, the book is less about her and more about her father and the person she lovingly calls her 'second father,' her Uncle Joseph. It's a fine tribute to these two gentle, honorable men.

The 'second father' appellation is more than just a term of endearment: author Danticant's family was riven in two in the early days of her youth. As is the tale of so many Haitians, Ms. Danticant's parents moved to the US to establish a life there, leaving the author and her younger brother in the stead of Joseph. In her early teens, her parents finally acquired the resources and stability to reunite the family. Haitian-born siblings Edwidge and Bob joined US-born counterparts Kelly and Karl to form a cohesive family unit for the first time. As her uncle put it, this reunion left "one papa happy, one papa sad."

This passage from the author sums up the spirit of the book for me:

There's a Haitian saying: "Pitit moun se lave yon bò, kite yon bò." When you bathe other people's children, it says, you should wash one side and leave the other side dirty. I suppose this saying cautions those who care for other people's children not to give over their whole hearts, because they will never get a whole heart back. I wonder if after we left for New York, my uncle felt that way."

The tragedy of Haiti is just how applicable this saying is across the entire countryside.

Reading this work reminded my Tracy Kidder's masterpiece, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. I get a tingle up my spine even thinking about that book. It's more than a book: it has changed people's lives. Read it. There are mountains beyond mountains, but one man can make a difference.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, beyond words, June 9, 2008
By 
K. L. Cotugno (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Hardcover)
You'd have to be made of stone not to be affected by this lovely, touching memoir by one of our finest writers, writing about her relationships with her two fathers. The fact that she is so eloquent and able to convey this story so well brings it sharply into focus. And that an innocent man, fleeing for his life, is treated with such unbelievable disregard makes me ashamed to be an American.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well crafted and worthwhile but hard to engage, June 5, 2009
This review is from: Brother, I'm Dying (Vintage Contemporaries) (Paperback)
Stories of Haiti and its people are important but marginalized in most of the US. This book tells one such story in a spare and elegant way through the experience of Edwidge Danticat's family. The family, and by implication Haiti itself, is portrayed as a complex mixture of vibrancy, bad luck, love, and victimization. The US stirs that mixture in both big and small ways--through government policies and human relationships. The book ultimately provides a worthwhile representation of how immigrant families can love the opportunities of the US--the father as a cab driver able to establish his children for thriving lives as writers and financiers--while resenting the costs--the petty bigotry of immigration officials inured to an uncle's genuine desperation. And of how such a family can love Haiti--the uncle as a voiceless preacher tending to a loving flock--while fleeing the desperation--the mobs of para-military youth that use violence as a pathetic grasp at small feelings of power.

But while the book was worth reading, and while I grew to admire the crafting of the writing over its course, I was also a bit disappointed. Perhaps part of my disappointment may be because I have heard and read much acclaim for Danticat's writing and for this book in particular. I may have expected too much. But the first third of the book read as slow and self-indulgent. Though the family's story is ultimately quite engaging, the reader is not given an opportunity to understand why we should care as much as the narrator. Further, though Danticat herself tries to stay out of the way of the story of her father and uncle, that effort ends up feeling a bit hollow. By only inserting bits about her own role as dutiful, loving, and conflicted, the author reads as more naive than the sophistication of her prose suggests.
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Brother, I'm Dying (Vintage Contemporaries)
Brother, I'm Dying (Vintage Contemporaries) by Edwidge Danticat (Paperback - September 9, 2008)
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