Breath, Eyes, Memory

by Edwidge Danticat

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Critical Overview

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Danticat was only twenty-five when Breath, Eyes, Memory was published. The book immediately attracted critical notice and acclaim for the clarity and precision of the writing, and its emotional depth. The book was the first novel by a Haitian woman to be published by a major press and to receive wide notice and readership among non-Haitian Americans.

Jim Gladstone wrote in the New York Times that the book ‘‘achieves an emotional complexity that lifts it out of the realm of the potboiler and into that of poetry,’’ and in Ms. Joan Philpott described it as ‘‘intensely lyrical.’’ Danticat was also compared to African-American writer Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple and other works. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, ‘‘In simple, lyrical prose ... she makes Sophie's confusion and guilt, her difficult assimilation into American culture and her eventual emotional liberation palpably clear.’’ Renee H. Shea noted in Belles Lettres, ‘‘To read Danticat is to learn about Haiti—the folklore and myth, the traditions, and the history.’’

On May 22, 1998, Danticat's critical praise was augmented by commercial success, when the book was selected by talk show host Oprah Winfrey for her book club. This catapulted it into the number-one spot on the bestseller lists and led Danticat to do a 17-city author tour, as the book sold 600,000 copies. Danticat's agent was flooded with requests for interviews, and Danticat was chosen by Harper's Bazaar magazine as one of twenty people in their twenties who will make a difference for the future, and was also named in a New York Times magazine article about thirty creative people under thirty who were expected to do great things in the future.

After her television appearance on Oprah, Danticat rented an apartment of her own in a Haitian community outside New York, so that she would not have to keep giving interviews in her parents' home. She told Mallay Charters in Publishers Weekly, ‘‘I just feel you need a little safe place sometimes, some place that you have just for yourself.''

Since writing the book, Danticat has also published two other books, The Farming of Bones, a novel set during the 1937 genocide of Haitians by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo Molina, and a collection of short stories titled Krik? Krak!.

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Breath, Eyes, Memory


Essays and Criticism