Edwidge Danticat writes fiction in a realistic style, making the lives of ordinary people central to her plots. Haitian history, culture, and politics merge with compelling storytelling and characters. She is a writer who turns historical events into art. Writing in beautifully crafted English, Danticat succeeds in portraying the poverty, madness, and violence of Haiti while honoring the country’s history, traditions, and beauty. The rhythms of Africa, the lyricism of French, and the realism of English come together in Danticat’s language and style. Her work connects the great literary themes of the journey, return, and reconciliation with the experiences of the contemporary Haitian American woman.
Breath, Eyes, Memory
Like Danticat, the main character of Breath, Eyes, Memory, Sophie Caco, is raised by her aunt in Haiti and emigrates to Brooklyn to join her mother when she is twelve years old. The novel’s exclusion of the male figures of Danticat’s youth—an uncle, a father, and a brother—strengthens the theme of the enduring strength of Haitian women.
The novel opens as Sophie’s mother sends her a plane ticket to join her in New York. On her first night in Brooklyn, Sophie discovers that her mother has nightmares that cause her to wake up screaming. Before long, Sophie learns the story of her birth: She is a child of rape. She also learns that her mother and aunt were “tested” regularly by their own mother, who would insert her fingers into their vaginas to check for “evidence” ensuring their virginity.
Once Sophie turns age eighteen and is ready to start college, she becomes interested in Joseph, a musician who lives next door and who asks her to marry him. When her mother finds out, she begins testing Sophie’s virginity weekly. Sophie learns to mentally separate herself from her physical body while the testing occurs. Finally she cannot bear the intrusion any longer and violently mutilates herself to make the testing stop. She then runs to Joseph and insists they marry immediately.
The second half of the book brings together the four generations of women in the Caco family. Sophie brings her infant daughter, Brigitte, to Haiti to visit Tante Atie and Grandmother Ifé as she attempts to reconcile the past with the present. Sophie has been traumatized by her mother’s testing, and is unable to enjoy a happy sexual relationship with her husband. Meanwhile, her mother, who has been mentally unstable since being raped, becomes pregnant by her longtime Haitian American lover and contemplates an abortion. In the end, Sophie makes an uneasy peace with her past, but is too late to save her mother, who commits suicide. It is only through the journey back to Haiti for her mother’s funeral that Sophie is able to face both the past and the future.
Breath, Eyes, Memory explores the pain, strength, and connection with the land that make up the psyche of the Haitian woman. The novel is dedicated to “the brave women of Haiti, grandmothers, mothers, auntson this shore and other shores. We have stumbled but we will not fall.” The novel, which emphasizes the significance of oral tradition and Haitian and African stories, has been praised by critics for its deep sense of place, its imagery, and its emotional complexity.
The Farming of Bones
Danticat’s second novel, The Farming of...
(The entire section is 1397 words.)