Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

1994. 234 pages. Paperback.

Vintage Contemporaries.

From: The public library

Recommended by: Easmanie Michel, who commented on my review of Danticat’s Krik? Krak!

For the challenge: 2nd Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Sophie Caco has lived in Haiti with her aunt since she was a baby.  When her mother, who lives in New York City, sends for her, Sophie is reluctant to leave the only mother she’s had for a mother she doesn’t know, but she goes.  Indeed, the mother-daughter relationship is a tense one, as Sophie’s mother carries deep psychological pain from a violent incident in her past.  Furthermore, throughout the generations of Caco women, the mothers have – without malice – passed along what the book jacket aptly calls “a legacy of shame.”

The book follows Sophie as she herself gets married and has a daughter of her own, voyaging back to Haiti to try and figure out how to break this legacy.

Review:

I liked Krik? Krak!, Danticat’s collection of short stories, but I think the novel format of Breath, Eyes, Memory is a better showcase of her writing.  Her stories were shot through with sorrow, but here, in Sophie’s story, the sorrow of Haiti, of its women, has time to build upon itself.

I really like the simplicity of Danticat’s writing, a kind of graceful economy of words.  She is wonderful at describing Haiti.  There is a scene of a funeral that crystallizes the sense of community that has been present throughout the novel’s depiction of Sophie’s hometown in Haiti.

I don’t always like books that  hinge their characters’ motivations on past traumatic events that need closure.  If a novel gets too deep into therapist-speak, characters start becoming more like ‘cases’ and less like humans in my eyes.  To Danticat’s credit, even though there a couple of therapy sessions described in the novel, her characters did not read like exercises or petri dishes of psychological motivations.

I don’t want to scare anyone away by saying that I cried at one of the final scenes in the book, but that’s what happened.  I’ve read far more depressing books than this one, so it isn’t that the book is supremely sad.  I cried because a character finally got to express her rage at the forces that tore apart her family.

Other reviews:

Jenny’s Books

things mean a lot

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7 Comments

Filed under Book Review

7 responses to “Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

  1. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the review!!

  2. I am new to your blog via the hop. Excellent review! 🙂

  3. I’m intrigued that you found this to be a better showcase of Danticat’s writing! I haven’t read any of her short stories yet, but from Breath, Eyes, Memory, I expected that she’d be better at short stories than novels.

  4. Hello, Christy!

    Thank you for hopping by my blog and, and, and!

    Thank you for the wonderful suggestion of P.T.Deutermann. I now have my eye on Cat Dancers, courtesy of your recommendation.

    Another great blog from the hop!

  5. Thanks all for stopping by and commenting!

    Jenny: Ah, you noticed that difference of opinion too. 🙂 When I re-read your review of this book after posting my review, I thought it interesting that you felt that the short story format would be a better reading experience as far as Danticat was concerned, when I had just written about the opposite.

    Amanda – I hope you enjoy Cat Dancers!

  6. Just found you through the Blog Hop. I’ll be checking back often!

  7. This was a favorite of mine by Danticat; very powerful.

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