From the age of four, Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph, a charismatic pastor, as her second father, when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for a better life in America. Listening to his sermons, sharing coconut-flavored ices on their walks through town, roaming through the house that held together many members of a colorful extended family, Edwidge grew profoundly attached to Joseph. He was the man who knew all the verses for love.
And so she experiences a jumble of emotions when, at twelve, she joins her parents in New York City. She is at last reunited with her two youngest brothers, and with her mother and father, whom she has struggled to remember. But she must also leave behind Joseph and the only home shes ever known.
Edwidge tells of making a new life in a new country while fearing for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorates. But Brother Im Dying soon becomes a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Late in 2004, his life threatened by an angry mob, forced to flee his church, the frail, eighty-one-year-old Joseph makes his way to Miami, where he thinks he will be safe. Instead, he is detained by U.S. Customs, held by the Department of Homeland Security, brutally imprisoned, and dead within days. It was a story that made headlines around the world. His brother, Mira, will soon join him in death, but not before he holds hope in his arms: Edwidges firstborn, who will bear his nameand the familys stories, both joyous and tragicinto the next generation.
Told with tremendous feeling, this is a true-life epic on an intimate scale: a deeply affecting story of home and familyof two mens lives and deaths, and of a daughters great love for them both.
Beating the Darkness
On Sunday, October 24, 2004, nearly two months after he left New York, Uncle Joseph woke up to the clatter of gunfire. There were blasts from pistols, handguns, automatic weapons, whose thundering rounds sounded like rockets. It was the third of such military operations in Bel Air in as many weeks, but never had the firing sounded so close or so loud. Looking over at the windup alarm clock on his bedside table, he was startled by the time, for it seemed somewhat lighter outside than it should have been at four thirty on a Sunday morning.
During the odd minutes it took to reposition and reload weapons, you could hear rocks and bottles crashing on nearby roofs. Taking advantage of the brief reprieve, he slipped out of bed and tiptoed over to a peephole under the staircase outside his bedroom. Parked in front of the church gates was an armored personnel carrier, a tank with mounted submachine guns on top. The tank had the familiar circular blue and white ...
Brother, I’m Dying unfolds in a deliberately reserved, unornamented voice as the narrator subsumes herself into the story of her revered elders. Because of this, the passages about Danticat’s own childhood never fully snap into focus and she can only gesture toward her feeling of abandonment when her parents move to the U.S. For at least one reviewer, this self-effacement compromises Danticat’s honesty with the reader, especially since she was writing acclaimed novels and winning literary renown as the book’s events unfolded. In this reviewer's opinion, her pared-down style devastatingly conveys, without overt editorializing, the injustice and inhumanity of her uncle’s treatment in the hands of Homeland Security officials, and it delivers her grief at both men’s deaths in raw form, without sentimentality. “I am writing this only because they can’t,” she states.
Brother, I’m Dying may be about Mira and Joseph Danticat, but it also serves as a portrait of a daughter and niece’s fierce loyalty as she carves the lives of her loved ones in granite prose. (Reviewed by Amy Reading).
Full Review (1174 words).
A Short History of Haiti
The Republic of Haiti occupies about one-third of the island of Hispaniola (the second largest island in the Carribean; map); the remainder being the Dominican Republic (Hayti means mountainous land in the native Arawak* language).
In 1697, the French colonized the island and imported African slaves to work the lush coffee and sugar plantations. As in other colonial environments, the two-tiered society of elite whites and subordinated blacks fostered ...
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