Excerpt from Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Brother, I'm Dying

by Edwidge Danticat

Brother, I'm Dying
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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My uncle removed his voice box from his neck and motioned for her to continue.

“Pastor,” said Anne, “my aunt told me to tell you she heard that fifteen people were killed when they were shooting from your roof and the neighbors are saying that they’re going to bring the corpses to you so you can pay for their funerals. If you don’t pay, and if you don’t pay for the people who are hurt and need to go to the hospital, they say they’ll kill you and cut your head off so that you won’t even be recognized at your own funeral.”

My uncle lowered the volume on his voice box and leaned close to Anne’s ears.

“Tell Ferna not to worry,” he said. “God is with me.”

Because, just as he’d told my father, he would be leaving for Miami in a few days to visit some churches, he had eight hundred dollars with him that he planned to leave behind for the teachers’ salaries. So when his neighbors crowded the courtyard telling him of their wounded or dead loved ones, he gave them that money. Because many were bystanders who had been shot just as he might have been shot inside the walls of his house, his church, they understood that it was not his fault. By the time it got dark, however, and Tante Denise’s brothers urged him to go back inside so they could lock all the doors and gates, the two corpses had been dragged to the front of the church and laid out. That afternoon, on the radio, the government reported that only two people had died during the operation. Obviously there were many more.



That night after dark everyone gathered in my uncle’s room. He and the children crowded together on his bed, while Maxo and his wife, Josiane, Léone and her brothers stretched out on blankets on the floor. To avoid being seen, they remained in the dark, not even lighting a candle.

They could now hear a more familiar type of gunfire, not the super firing power of the Haitian special forces and UN soldiers but a more subdued kind of ammunition coming from the handguns and rifles owned by area gang members. Shots were occasionally fired at the church. Now and then a baiting voice would call out, “Pastor, you’re not getting away. We’re going to make you pay.”

Using a card-funded cell phone with a quickly diminishing number of minutes, Maxo tried several times to call the police and the UN alert hotline, but he could not get through. He wanted to tell them that their operation had doomed them, possibly condemned them to death. He wanted them to send in the cavalry and rescue them, but quickly realized that he and his family were on their own.

At one point they heard footsteps, the loud thump of boots on a narrow ledge above my uncle’s bedroom window. Maxo tightened his grip on the handle of a machete he kept under his pillow, just as his father had in his youth. Something heavy was being dragged across the floor above them, possibly the generator on which they relied for most of their electrical power.

It was quiet again. My uncle waited for the children to nod off before discussing strategy with the adults.

“They’re mostly angry at me,” he said. “They’re angry because they think I asked the riot police and the UN to go up on the roof. Everyone who came tonight asked me, ‘Why did you let them in?’ as though I had a choice.”

“Maxo,” he said, putting as much command as he could behind his mechanized voice. “Take your wife and the children and go to Léogâne with your aunt and uncles. If you leave at four in the morning, you’ll be on one of the first camions to Léogâne.”

“I’m not going to leave you,” Maxo said.

“You have to,” my uncle insisted. He wanted to paint a painful enough picture that would force Maxo to leave, not just to save himself but the children as well. So he borrowed an image from his boyhood of the fears that a lot of parents, including his, had for their children during the American occupation.

Excerpted from Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat Copyright © 2007 by Edwidge Danticat. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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