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The Dew Breaker

by Edwidge Danticat

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat X
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2004, 256 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2005, 256 pages

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Book Summary

A brilliant, deeply moving work of fiction that explores the world of a "dew breaker"—a torturer—a man whose brutal crimes in the country of his birth lie hidden beneath his new American reality.

From the universally acclaimed author of Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!, a brilliant, deeply moving work of fiction that explores the world of a "dew breaker"—a torturer—a man whose brutal crimes in the country of his birth lie hidden beneath his new American reality.

We meet him late in his life. He is a quiet man, a husband and father, a hardworking barber, a kindly landlord to the men who live in a basement apartment in his home. He is a fixture in his Brooklyn neighborhood, recognizable by the terrifying scar on his face. As the book unfolds, moving seamlessly between Haiti in the 1960s and New York City today, we enter the lives of those around him: his devoted wife and rebellious daughter; his sometimes unsuspecting, sometimes apprehensive neighbors, tenants, and clients. And we meet some of his victims.

In the book’s powerful denouement, we return to the Haiti of the dew breaker’s past, to his last, desperate act of violence, and to his first encounter with the woman who will offer him a form of redemption—albeit imperfect—that will change him forever.
The Dew Breaker is a book of interconnected lives—a book of love, remorse, and hope; of rebellions both personal and political; of the compromises we often make in order to move beyond the most intimate brushes with history. Unforgettable, deeply resonant, The Dew Breaker proves once more that in Edwidge Danticat we have a major American writer.

The Book of the Dead

My father is gone. I’m slouched in a cast-aluminum chair across from two men, one the manager of the hotel where we’re staying and the other a policeman. They’re both waiting for me to explain what’s become of him, my father.

The hotel manager—mr. flavio salinas, the plaque on his office door reads—has the most striking pair of chartreuse eyes I’ve ever seen on a man with an island Spanish lilt to his voice.

The police officer, Officer Bo, is a baby-faced, short, white Floridian with a potbelly.

"Where are you and your daddy from, Ms. Bienaimé?" Officer Bo asks, doing the best he can with my last name. He does such a lousy job that, even though he and I and Salinas are the only people in Salinas’ office, at first I think he’s talking to someone else.

I was born and raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and have never even been to my parents’ birthplace. Still, I answer "Haiti" because it ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why does Danticat use a number of different narrators to tell the story? How do these shifting points of view affect the way the story is told? How do they affect the way readers absorb and understand the events described in the book?

  2. Why does Danticat begin The Dew Breaker with Ka’s father’s confession and then return, near the end of the book, to the moment, some thirty years earlier, when he committed his last crime? Is this way of structuring the events of the story more powerful than a chronological telling would be?

  3. Ka says that her father, "if anyone could, must have already understood that confessions do not lighten living hearts" (p. 33). Why would he understand this better than others? Why then does he confess ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Christian Science Monitor - Ron Charles
The stories relate to one another like beautiful shards of a broken vase . . . Haunting . . . A flawless finale . . . [Danticat] is a master at capturing the inarticulate sorrow and bafflement that evil inspires.

Newsday - Daphne Uviller
The Dew Breaker is a captivating, eloquent tale told by a nimble storyteller.

People - Champ Clark
Filled with quiet intensity and elegant, thought-provoking prose . . . An elegiac and powerful novel with a fresh presentation of evil and the healing potential of forgiveness.

San Francisco Chronicle - Kate Washington
In its varied characters, its descriptive power and its tightly linked images and themes, [The Dew Breaker] is a rewarding and affecting read, rich with insights not just about Haiti but also about the human condition.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer - John Marshall
A serious-minded work of a mature talent, a searching examination of terror and its lingering aftershocks on generations . . . Gripping . . . Powerful.

The New York Observer - Daniel Asa Rose
With her grace and her imperishable humanity, her devotion to lives lived like ‘a pendulum between forgiveness and regret,’ [Danticat] . . . makes sadness beautiful.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
Each tale in The Dew Breaker could stand on its own as a beautifully made story, but they come together like jigsaw-puzzle pieces to create a picture of this man's terrible history and his and his victims' afterlife. Some of the puzzle pieces are missing of course, but this is a matter of design. It is a measure of Ms. Danticat's fierce, elliptical artistry that she makes the elisions count as much as her piercing, indelible words. 

The Washington Post's Book World - Meri Nana-Ama Danquah
Danticat awakens us to the beauty and terror that can exist in everyday life in Haiti. The Dew Breaker is a brilliant book, undoubtedly the best one yet by an enormously talented writer.

USA Today - Bob Minzesheimer
It's beautifully written fiction about the real-life horror that is Haiti. Seamlessly blending the personal and political, it deals with what happens to a country and its people when mothers and fathers disappear for their political transgressions. 

Amazon.com - Regina Marler
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. 

Associated Press - Jeannette J. Lee
[Danticat’s] prose is at once stately and riveting, echoing sincere grief for Haiti’s plight and capturing the intensity of violent times.

Rocky Mountain News - Jenny Shank
The Dew Breaker never wavers in placing its attention on individual lives, and as [Danticat] moves from one character to another you feel she is holding their faces up to you . . . [An] accomplished novel.

Kirkus Reviews
Danticat's voice is that of a seasoned veteran, her pages wise and saddened, struggling on the pendulum between regret and forgiveness. Searing fiction with the lived-in feel of the best memoir. 

Library Journal - Faye A Chadwell
This tour de force will certainly earn Danticat the same high acclaim she gained from her three previous works, which include National Book Award finalist Krik? Krak! Highly recommended. 

Booklist - Donna Seaman
Starred Review. Danticat's masterful depiction of the emotional and spiritual reverberations of tyranny and displacement reveals the intricate mesh of relationships that defines every life, and the burden of traumatic inheritances the crimes and tragedies that one generation barely survives, the next must reconcile. 

Publishers Weekly
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. 

Reader Reviews

Justerow

A beautifully written work. Danticat is a writer that never lets you down and never end her works the way you expect.
Tom Lyler

The Dew Breaker
I really enjoyed all the stories in this book. Many of these stories helped me to see in a different perspective of countries like Haiti and such. This whole book revolves around theme, motifs, and symbols which makes it that much better. Danticat ...   Read More
Shalonda Hutchins

My overall opinion of THE Dew Breaker
This book shows yet another aspect of how Haiti is and was ruled during that time and the present. This book also shows how a man that is a father and a husband can lead a double life without anyone suspecting that he is a part of the non ...   Read More
Melissa Beauvery

This book will bring out emotions that you never know you posessed. Beautifully written with a powerful yet subtle ending. Excellent I feel a sequel coming involving the characters in the book. Its so moving it brings tears to your eyes. I just ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Poor Haiti! Columbus found the island in 1492 and named it Hispanola. Before long the native Arawak Indians were virtually extinct (Hayti means mountainous land in the Arawak language). By the mid-17th Century Haiti was colonized by the French and was a productive source of cocoa, cotton, sugar cane and coffee. Demand for products created demand for inexpensive labor so slaves were imported from West Africa. By the late 18th century Haiti was one of the wealthiest regions in the world and a comfortable place to be for the lucky few at the top of the Haitian tree. However the problems that still effect Haiti today were brewing. The slaves had brought with them the practice of voodoo which clashed ...

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