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The Dew Breaker Paperback – March 8, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In her third novel, The Dew Breaker, the prolific Edwidge Danticat spins a series of related stories around a shadowy central figure, a Haitian immigrant to the U.S. who reveals to his artist daughter that he is not, as she believes, a prison escapee, but a former prison guard, skilled in torture and the other violent control methods of a brutal regime. "Your father was the hunter," he confesses, "he was not the prey." Into this brilliant opening, Danticat tucks the seeds of all that follows: the tales of the prison guard's victims, of their families, of those who recognize him decades later on the streets of New York, of those who never see him again, but are so haunted that they believe he's still pursuing them. (A dew breaker, we learn, is a government functionary who comes in the early morning to arrest someone or to burn a house down, breaking the dew on the grass that he crosses.) Although it is frustrating, sometimes, to let go of one narrative thread to follow another, The Dew Breaker is a beautifully constructed novel that spirals back to the reformed prison guard at the end, while holding unanswered the question of redemption. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Haitian-born Danticat's third novel (after The Farming of Bones and Breath, Eyes, Memory) focuses on the lives affected by a "dew breaker," or torturer of Haitian dissidents under Duvalier's regime. Each chapter reveals the titular man from another viewpoint, including that of his grown daughter, who, on a trip she takes with him to Florida, learns the secret of his violent past and those of the Haitian boarders renting basement rooms in his Brooklyn home. This structure allows Danticat to move easily back and forth in time and place, from 1967 Haiti to present-day Florida, tracking diverse threads within the larger narrative. Some readers may think that what she gains in breadth she loses in depth; this is a slim book, and Danticat does not always stay in one character's mind long enough to fully convey the complexities she seeks. The chapters—most of which were published previously as stories, with the first three appearing in the New Yorker—can feel more like evocative snapshots than richly textured portraits. The slow accumulation of details pinpointing the past's effects on the present makes for powerful reading, however, and Danticat is a crafter of subtle, gorgeous sentences and scenes. As the novel circles around the dew breaker, moving toward final episodes in which, as a young man and already dreaming of escape to the U.S., he performs his terrible work, the impact on the reader hauntingly, ineluctably grows.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400034299
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400034291
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This young Haitian-American writer is making quite a name for herself. In this, her fourth novel, she again displays her depth of understanding of her people. She writes clear, sharp, poignant sentences that go straight to the heart. And the story, itself, is chilling.

The book is episodic and can be looked at a series of short stories. But they're all interrelated, and tell the story of Haiti over the past twenty years. A "dew breaker" is a prison guard who tortures the captives in his charge. And he is the central character in the book. He now lives in Brooklyn and has a loving wife and a grown up daughter. He now works as a barber and his past seems a long time ago. We see him through his daughter's eyes as he reveals his true past to her. The daughter loves her father but this new fact about his life is hard to accept.

We also meet other Haitian people, living in America. There's the nurse who sends most of her paycheck home to her mother. There's the young man who brings his wife to this country. There's another man who travels back to Haiti to visit his dying aunt. There are three Haitian women learning English and sharing their stories with each other.

Eventually, we flash back to the story of the "dew breaker" in Haiti. It's not a pleasant story but yet a very human one. Even though we don't forgive, we do understand.

I was a little reluctant to read this book. I thought it would have detailed horrors and be excessively brutal. I was glad that Ms. Danticant, in her wisdom, spent most of her time on character development and story. She only put in a few of the horrible details, mostly focusing on the people, rather than on the gore.

The book is only 242 pages long, a fast read. It left me with a deep understanding of Haiti, its people, and what is going on in the news today.
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Format: Hardcover
Throughout The Dew Breaker, evil prevails in all its manifestations, particularly in the guise of authority, demanding homage from the persecuted. This novel is beautifully constructed; characters fall into place within the chapters, the infinite connections that bind one life to another clearly drawn. In each facet of her story, the author builds the momentum in this cautionary tale of horror, love, rebelliousness and hope, touched with myth and memory.
As the novel begins, a young woman gazes upon her father with eyes of love, unaware of his past. Finally confessing his carefully hidden secret, he is revealed as deeply flawed, his actions virtually unforgivable. The scar he wears on his face carries a terrible history, his life in America built on deception. In his mouth the truth is a lie. Although the father pardons himself, there are many who damn him for the monster of their nightmares.
Weaving through the chapters, we learn of those who have been touched by brutal dictatorship and oppression, where unmarried women bear fatherless children, eking out the most basic existence. Haiti, an island paradise, turns into hell under a despot's reign of terror, freedom a vague dream, while the hungry scratch for garbage, all under a starlit sky of infinite beauty. Even when these characters find a different life in America, they carry the indelible scars of Haiti in their hearts.
This passionate novel is an assemblage of powerful interrelated stories; here a chorus of voices hums, the heard and the unheard, the "disappeared", the unborn, the women whose voice boxes have been surgically removed, the desperate murmur of prayers, the eternal silence of the dead and the staccato of random gunfire.
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Format: Hardcover
Author Danticat introduces her story of Haitian immigrants and the lives they have escaped in Haiti with the story of Ka, a young sculptress whose parents think of her as a "good angel," her name also associated symbolically with the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Ka is in Florida with her father to deliver a powerfully rendered sculpture to a Haitian TV actress. Ka's father, who served as the model for the sculpture, however, destroys it, confessing tearfully that he is not the man his daughter has always believed him to be, and admitting that the disfiguring scar on his face was not the result of torture in a Haitian prison. He was "the hunter," he says, and "not the prey," one of the "dew breakers," or torturers, who as part of the Tonton Macoutes, committed political assassinations and inflicted unimaginable tortures on orders of dictators Francois Duvalier and his son "Baby Doc" between 1957-86.

In a series of episodes which resemble short stories more than a novel in form, Danticat illuminates the lives of approximately a dozen Haitian immigrants as they remember this traumatic period "back home." As the "novel" alternates between past and present, it is told from disparate points of view--those of Ka's mother and father, a young man visiting Haiti after ten years to see his blinded aunt, a wedding seamstress in New York, a Haitian-American reporter investigating a possible "dew-breaker," a man remembering a Haitian friend's long-ago disappearance as he awaits his son's birth in New York, and a popular Haitian preacher whose arrest affects lives for many years.

The novel gains much of its power from the horrors of vividly described torture and the overwhelming fear engendered by the Tonton Macoute militia.
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