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Book #23: Brother I'm Dying, by Edwidge Danticat - Deirdre on reading, writing and living

May. 5th, 2009 04:50 pm Book #23: Brother I'm Dying, by Edwidge Danticat

When the calls came, they were always there for one another. It didn't matter that one lived in the old neighborhood in Haiti and one moved all the way to New York City. They were brothers and when one was in trouble, the other one moved miles and mountains to help.

Danticat's superb memoir about her entire clan, focusing particularly on her father and his brother, puts them in their element for readers to meet. Their lives are built in the shadow of invasions and dictators. Small decisions have huge consequences.

Both men had a hand in raising Danticat and her brother. Scenes in the poor Bel Air neighborhood of Port au Prince (the capital of Haiti) begin when the author is a little girl. She and her parents live in a tiny house and dream of making a good and decent life. Soon squads of paramilitary men called the Tonton Macoutes, enforcers of Papa Doc Duvalier's rule, begin throwing their weight around. Danticat's father, tired of living under their gaze, overstays his tourist visa to the US. When his wife follows him, Danticat and her first brother stay with their uncle. It will be years before the family is able to live together again.

Larger historical events push the people of Bel Air to the breaking point and Danticat's family is threatened, just like everyone else there.

The book is beautifully written and can help readers unfamiliar with Haiti's tumultuous history catch up by focusing on the families trials and traumas. While the situation may be off the front pages, misery and resistance are is still thriving. It's well worth spending some time learning about Haiti and the people who struggle and live and die, both there and right here in the US.

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