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.
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).
The New York Times Book Review
[A] memoir whose clear-eyed prose and unflinching adherence to the facts conceal an astringent undercurrent of melancholy, a mixture of homesickness and homelessness.
The New York Times
She has written a fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love, and how that love can survive distance and separation, loss and abandonment and somehow endure, undented and robust.
Starred Review. Poignant and never sentimental, this elegant memoir recalls how a family adapted and reorganized itself over and over, enduring and succeeding to remain kindred in spite of living apart.
Booklist - Donna Seaman
Starred Review. This meticulously crafted, deeply felt remembrance is a homage to one remarkable family, and all who persevere, seeking justice and channeling love.
[T]here's an explosion of tears waiting behind almost every sentence. But Danticat avoids sentimentality in smoothly honed prose that is nonetheless redolent with emotion. Deeply felt memoir rife with historical drama and familial tragedy.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Kelly A Must Read! I have just finished reading this for the second time in just a year. It is that good. Yes, it is sad but somehow it manages to also be so heartwarming. I would highly recommend this book.
Rated of 5
by Annie Bahringer A glimpse into the Other I loved this book. It was written with such heart, you could feel being a part of the family. A cultural look at both Haitian and American governments, this books shows what life is like for those less fortunate, who believe they are more than... Read More
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 unsustainable tension.
The slaves brought with them the
practice of voodoo which clashed
with Catholicism. The French,
for their part, were
exceptionally harsh in their
treatment of their slaves.
Lastly, a class of mulattos...
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