Summary and book reviews of Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

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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About this Book

Book Summary

From the best-selling author of The Dew Breaker, a major work of nonfiction: a powerfully moving family story that centers around the men closest to Danticat's heart - her father, Mira, and his older brother, Joseph.

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 she’s 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 I’m 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: Edwidge’s firstborn, who will bear his name—and the family’s stories, both joyous and tragic—into the next generation.

Told with tremendous feeling, this is a true-life epic on an intimate scale: a deeply affecting story of home and family—of two men’s lives and deaths, and of a daughter’s 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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your group's discussion of Brother, I'm Dying, a memoir of the tragedy and losses of a Haitian family and the hope of a new life in America.


About This Book

When she was four, Edwidge Danticat's mother left Haiti to join her father who had gone to New York two years earlier, leaving her and her younger brother, Bob, in the care of her father's brother, Joseph. Edwidge came to think of her uncle Joseph as a second father because he treated her with such tenderness and because, as a minister, "he knew all the verses for love" [p. 35]. Until she was twelve, when she finally joined her parents...
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  • award image

    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2007

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (590 words).

Media Reviews

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.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Kirkus Reviews

[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.

Reader Reviews

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.

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 lucky ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

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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