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Breath, Eyes, Memory ()


Granta Top 20 Authors Under 40

This is less a novel than a string of episodes from a young Haitian woman's life and I enjoyed the first two sections, but was really disappointed as the writer lost control of her text in the later stages.  The story starts in Haiti where twelve year old Sophie has been raised by her aunt, Tante Atie, while her mother supports the family with a job in New York.  But now her mother wants Sophie to come and join her.  There's a beautifully detailed portrait of country life in Haiti here and the separation of Sophie and Atie is genuinely heart rending.

The next section details the tentative first steps of Sophie and her mother as they feel out the parameters of a mother-daughter relationship.  This is complicated by the fact that Sophie was the product of her mother being raped as a teenager by a Tonton Macout.

This transition from Haiti to New York is fine and would be a solid basis for a novel, but Danticat now starts skipping forward in large chunks of time.  Suddenly, Sophie is 18 and enamored of an older neighbor who is a musician.  Her scandalized mother begins to probe her nightly to establish that she has maintained her virginity.  Tempers explode and we skip ahead again.  Sophie has married the musician and had a child, but she's estranged from her mother, has developed sexual phobias and has fled to Haiti with her child.  From here the novel descends into all the worst topicality of the 90's and we see how it made Oprah's Book Club.  We're immersed in bulimia, sexual dysfunction, female genital mutilation, therapy, suicide, etc.

Ultimately,  after a strong and promising beginning, I have to say that the author lost me.  I appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to a side of Haitian life that we rarely see, but then we're buried in a blizzard of psychoblither.  I expect to see better from this author in the future.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C-)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -FIRST CHAPTER: Breath, Eyes, Memory
    -EducETH--Danticat, Edwidge
    -Interview (from Urban Desires)
    -Oprah's Book Club
    -Reading Group Guide (from Amazon)
    -Reading Group Guide (Random House)
    -Caribbean Writers Roundtable [RealAudio of Talk of the Nation (NPR)]
    -Voices from the Gaps: Edwidge Danticat
    -REVIEW: of The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (Autumn Stephens, SF Chronicle)

Comments:

I thought that this novel was fantastic! It truely kept me reading, and never wanting to stop. It shows a view of the Haitian side that is not often shown. I give it an A+.

- Jennifer D.

- Mar-26-2005, 11:33

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I extremely enjoyed Breath, Eyes, Memory. It was well-written, and the author takes the reader to Haiti and introduces us to the slow-paces, laid back lifestyle of Haiti. Although the Macoutes threaten the peaceful Haitians, Danticat's writes of more serious issues that some Haitain girls experience. By the end of the novel, I completely understand the anger, grief, freedom, and hope that Sophie experiences. This is novel is extremely well-written and has a special something to it that keeps the readers going. Once you pick it up, you won't want to put it down. Definitely an A+!!!

- bianca Z

- Jul-29-2003, 19:33

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