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At an astonishingly young age Edwidge Danticat has become one of our most celebrated new novelists a writer who evokes the wonder terror and heartache of her native Haiti and the enduring strength of Haiti's women with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people's suffering and courage  At the age of twelve Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix des Rosets to New York to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti to the women who first reared her What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence in a novel that bears witness to the traditions suffering and wisdom of an entire people


10 thoughts on “Breath Eyes Memory

  1. says:

    I come from a place where breath eyes and memory are one a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your headThis book is really uite sad The characters are weighed down with such misery and heartache as they shoulder the burden of nearly unbearable memories These memories are carried within the women of this story and are passed through the generations where they persist and wreak havoc on the psyches of both mothers and daughters Sophie has been raised in Haiti by her Tante Atie for the first twelve years of her life Sophie’s mother carrying a shame she could not bear fled to New York to escape a past that haunts her Sophie has led a reasonably happy life for a child living in a poor country rife with political unrest and violence We come from a place where in one instant you can lose your father and all your other dreams When her mother finally sends for Sophie Sophie does not want to leave but has no choice She does not know this mother and she will be leaving behind the one she has always thought of as her “mother” Not only that she is also faced with the challenges of immigrating to a foreign country My mother said it was important that I learn English uickly Otherwise the American students would make fun of me or even worse beat me Sophie will need to adapt uickly and learn about her mother and her mother’s demons that torment her dreams each night But when pain begets further pain in a relentless cycle Sophie will need to return to her roots to discover the truth and begin the slow process of healingWhat I loved most about Breath Eyes Memory were some of the lyrical descriptions of Haiti and its people Danticat does this so well The bonds between women – sisters mothers daughters grandmothers – are also explored and are fascinating complex and often heartbreaking Certain traditions that are passed on are simply shocking and perplexing What I found to be lacking in this novel however was a feeling of connection to any of these women The dialogue felt abrupt and distant The closeness I expected to feel with these women was just not there; although I did feel compassion for them in general There were some big jumps in time that may have caused the character development to suffer The sense of a cohesive plot was missing at times as well In some ways aside from the very heavy and unsettling topics within these pages I got the sense this was like a YA novel Not that I’d recommend this to a young adult because I personally would not Perhaps it was the relatively young age of the author at the time this was written that came through to me Nevertheless she is still to be applauded for taking on these tough themes and I do think she has much to offer I enjoyed The Farming of Bones than this and would recommend that if you have not yet read anything by Edwidge Danticat This one gets 25 stars rounded up


  2. says:

    “The tale is not a tale unless I tell Let the words bring wings to our feet” Edwidge Danticat “Breath Eyes Memory”My first read for Black History Month “Breath Eyes Memory” is Edwidge Danticat’s first novel and I loved it This writer introduced me to Haitian literature over a decade ago and I feel strong feelings of kinship with herThis was a beautiful and moving story about a young Haitian girl named Sophia whose mother leaves her with an aunt in Haiti as a baby and moves to New York to escape bad memories and get a better life for herself When Sophia is finally reunited with her mother at the age of 12 she is a girl wise beyond her years trying to navigate herself in an unfamiliar environment using a strange language with a mother she doesn’t really know “Night had just fallen Lights glowed everywhere A long string of cars sped along the highway each like a single diamond on a very long bracelet”I was struck by that description How would the busy streets of NYC look to a young girl freshly arrived from the Third World?I’ve heard far too many stories of families separated by immigration We hear about families reuniting but rarely do we hear about the difficulties they face trying to re adapt to each other and make up for lost time Danticat brings these issues to the forefrontDespite depicting some of Haiti’s violent history it was a hopeful book one infused with Haitian thought and mentality mostly through stories songs and the grandmother’s wisdom the grandmother who like mine has been preparing for her own funeral for years The part about the grandmother definitely touched me; it hit very close to homeThe descriptions of Haiti were evocative; it felt like Danticat was drawing from her own memories there “The mid morning sky looked like an old uilt with long bands of red and indigo stretching their way past drifting clouds Like everything else eventually even the rainbows disappeared”I know this book will speak a lot to a lot of immigrants especially those who uestion where home is Being stuck between two worlds as well as experiencing the generation gap is a double whammy for many immigrant kids Old practices continue to take place in their new home; however with a new westernized mentality it can all be hard to take The unbelievable stress a young immigrant faces having to live up to high expectations after all their family sacrificed so much for them to have a better life is something that is a real issue “If you make something of yourself in life we will all succeed You can raise our heads”Reading this made me dwell on how much the world is changing My first language is different from my mother’s and my grandparents’ I can’t even communicate with some of my relatives because we don’t have a language in common My relatives are spread out all across the globe Changes beget changes and uestions about identity and the value of tradition abound


  3. says:

    In lyrical prose Danticat’s debut swiftly charts the highs and lows of a Haitian American daughter’s fraught bond with her mother over the course of decades The first few sections focusing on her move to America upbringing and estrangement from her mom seem the best in that they sketch a slow moving subtle portrait of the life the two build and share then lose After the middle a great many subplots are introduced and social issues taken on and the novel careens toward a blunt end with several storylines feeling only half realized


  4. says:

    Immediately prioritized this book by a Haitian American writer after reading about the shithole countries comment and I'm so glad I did There's so much going on artistically it leaves you in awe even as it breaks your heart Sophie grows up in Haiti with her aunt until age 12 when she is sent to New York City to live with her mother It would be hard enough to live between two places never having a true sense of home but Sophie’s life is further shadowed by the painful knowledge of why her mother couldn’t raise her which I won’t spoil here Danticat explores how the legacy of violence and hurt are inherited by each new generation and the herculean effort of will reuired to break those patterns Even though thematically this is a tough book to read the prose is spare and the pages fly I never could decide if I wanted to speed up so the pain would be over or if I wanted to slow down and let myself feel the impact This is the kind of book you could read over and over and still not catch everything Danticat is doing but I don’t think my heart could handle multiple close readings At the back of my paperback copy the publisher includes a note from Danticat addressed to her character Sophie in which she says she feels compelled to explain that not all children growing up in Haiti suffer exactly like Sophie does Apparently some readers of the book have not understood that one character’s experiences from one fictional work cannot be generalized over the actual human population of an entire country It created uncomfortable resonance when after reading her elouent response to the “shithole” comment it occurred to me that Danticat is still all these years later having to explain herself to an audience of ignorantsMore book recommendations by me at wwwreadingwithhipposcom


  5. says:

    Breath Eyes Memory was a bit of a surprise for me Of course I expected it to be good It is a modern classic What I didn't expect was that it would be so immersing I was completely captivated by this story about a Haitian immigrant and her culture and family history Not uplifting not perfect; but stunning Almost 45 StarsRead on kindle


  6. says:

    There is an Haitian tradition known as ”testing” Haitian mothers have for centuries been taught that it is their duty their obligation as good mothers to test for their daughters’ virginity An unmarried woman having lost her virginity has no virtue and is without value Mothers insert their fingers into a daughter’s vagina to confirm that the hymen is intact I was unaware of this tradition It revolts me I see it as barbaric cruel incomprehensible How in the world can a mother maintain with her daughter a loving trusting and compassionate relationship with a daughter after such an act? And not once but repeatedly It has detrimental psychological repercussions is ineffective and unhygienic For about the tradition see It is not a tradition restricted only to HaitiReading about this disturbing practice is NOT why I dislike the book In fact it is good that people are made aware The novel failed me despite that it brings attention to a worthy topicThe book tackles many disturbing subjects besides “virginity testing” Rape breast cancer eating disorders insomnia nightmares sexual lingual and racial discrimination are other topics of this book Psychological disorders lack of self esteem and immigrant assimilation are additional topics that play in The number of heavy topics covered make it difficult to give adeuate depth to eachHere is the gist of the story The central character Sophie Caco is the product of her mother’s rape Her mother flees Haiti to the north—Brooklyn New York City I am guessing this is probably in the 1980s or 1990s since HIV and AIDS are a problem Sophie remains in Haiti to be raised by her mother’s sister Tant Atie until her mother sends for her when she is twelve She doesn’t know her mother She does not want to leave Haiti and her mother emotionally views her daughter with hatred She is visual proof of the rape she is unable to forget One can uestion why she now sends for her daughterA central focus are the grandmother mother daughter granddaughter relationships Have you noted the absence of men in this human euation? Men are in the sidelines of this story Their actions affect women but it is women we study I prefer a book that focuses on both sexes how we influence each other Isn’t it productive isn’t it interesting to focus on both rather than furthering the divide? The female relationships as they are described in this book are misshapen beaten out of the recognizably healthy and normal Did I feel for the characters? No Nothing This is bad news given that what they go through is truly horrendous The author has failed to make their suffering mine Which leads one to ask why this is so In my view the prose is the answer It is the weakest aspect of the book It is ordinary It is run of the mill It is flat It is off key The dialogs are stilted What the characters say and think does not feel genuine at least not to me One teeny example to illustrate my point view spoilerSophie asks her husband if their daughter is able to sleep She is worrying about insomnia in her two year old when for a few days the father cares for the child Isn’t this stretching things a bit? hide spoiler


  7. says:

    I think this story is about how women are traumatised by each other under patriarchy; how trauma makes us pass on trauma and abuse even especially to those we love I found the story achingly sad since the only way to break the cycle to refuse to pass on the pain is to free yourself somewhat from the one who hurt you to break your connection with them on some level even if you continue to love and care for themApart from this deep insight into the violence wreaked upon girls and woman and the chain of suffering and re victimisation that comes out of it and the limited possibilities for healing I enjoyed this book for its sonorous poetry The part when our protagonist Sophie returns from New York City to stay with her Tante Atie and grandmother is strikingly beautiful The poet who is the author’s proxy here is the driver of the bus in which Sophie travels with her baby daughter He flirts with her and flirting is a very dangerous art to practice because it may be violence even if the intent is not selfish and not to harm It may be safer never to flirt and similarly it may be safer to reject all sexual contact and retreat to a monastery and there may be an awesome beautiful life there too but maybe we can also tread the difficult path and find liberatory ways of engaging in such dangerous actsHere I think the driver’s flirting is relatively safe because Sophie with her daughter Brigitte and her wedding ring feels neither vulnerable problematically she has a protected status conferred a legal proven attachment to some man nor desireable at the point when the driver praises her as if he were making her into a religion We do not find out how Sophie feels about the driver’s attentions except insofar as she continues to respond conversationally to him Our attention is drawn to how her beauty grants her the privilege of the best seat on the bus The world is neither as kind nor as eual as we would wish Comfort and tenderness are paid for in treacherous currencies Sophie is journeying away from people whose love for her expresses itself in demands towards the refuge of Tante Atie who refused her poem her love offering out of selflessness Peace and refuge and consolation and healing are found in love that asks nothing in return The driver’s reverence with its language of consuming and possessing perhaps marks a transition between those who love her greedily and those who love and accept and shelter her without conditionsGreat god in Guinea you are beautiful I would crawl inside your dress and live there I can feed on your beauty like a leech feeds on blood I would live and die for you More than the sky loves its stars More than the night loves its moon More than the sea loves its mermaidsIs the sea terrible or is it for mermaids at least refuge? Despite the potentially frightening hunger of his words his devotion is poured out on the dry ground of Sophie’s merely polite reponse like a libation She has the power with the help of her women relatives and friends to temporarily retreat from those fearful promises Maybe it is a choice between passion and peace When and where and how will we be able to offer each other both?


  8. says:

    sigh Okay what did I think of the book what did I think? Well by my grade I'm sure you can tell I wasn't too fond of the book and didn't like it all that much I wish I could leave it at that but I'm a person who's solidly against criticisms without any sort of reason to back it up with So let's explain why I didn't really like itFirst of all the story itself really didn't interest me at all Sure there were moments that I couldn't put it down but most of the time I was bored by it Maybe because I didn't share any ties or connections to it In many stories to feel any sort of attraction or pull to it you sort of have to have some sort of thing to relate to it with This book I didn't really have that I think other people could just as easily relate to and enjoy this story much than I couldI think I also didn't like the story because it didn't seem that developed It still seemed to be in a younger stage of writing and possibly that's Edwidge Danticat's style but I think it would have enriched and helped the story so much if she had added detail to it It was very simple in many ways And I don't want to think that she's trying to reflect the simplicity of the Haitian people or something because Haiti and this time they're all living in is not simple at all It's rich in color and thick with strife And New York is a hustle and bustle of different people and business while love is a full and strong emotion None of that was explored and I know the book could have been so much had it beenOnce again I had a time issue on my hands In such a short book I can understand why Sophie suddenly jumped in age but it was difficult and a bit confusing to follow Especially because it seemed so much happened in between the two different ages and it felt like I was expected to know what happened I don't mind it when we have time switches on our hands it's just I like it when it's a smooth switch or it's explained in a smooth way or just it's not as choppy as it was in this storyThis book could very well be a wonderful book for someone else to read but for me well it just wasn't my style


  9. says:

    This is a uiet but beautiful book While it may not shimmer with literary acrobatics its prose is clear as water and the narrative structure literally tugs the reader through it Had I the time I could have read this in one sitting It's that effortless And yes Danticat was only 24 when she wrote itAt times I wanted Danticat to take me deeper into the complex lives of this multi generational circle of women and the unspoken pasts that haunt them Many of the 35 chapters are brief andor fragmentary The plot drives on when I wanted it to linger Yet by the final third of the novel I appreciated her sparse crisp style This is not a book heavy on style; much of it is dialog for instance Instead this novel is a celebration of storytelling and the bonds both fractured and sound between mothers and daughters Breath Eyes Memory delves into issues of regret and anger and forgiveness and letting go the ghosts of our pasts and healing from hurt And her characters are so brilliantly drawn the message so profound Stick with it to the end and you'll be rewardedI couldn't help but think of other great novels while reading this one Kingston's The Woman Warrior Hosseini's The Kite Runner and Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter Breath Eyes Memory certainly belongs in this esteemed group of novels I also highly recommend her second work Krik? Krak


  10. says:

    This is a beautifully painful story But does Danticat ever write happy stories? Because 'Krik? Krak' had some sad elements in most of the short stories lol I don't even know how to review this Breath Eyes Memory is a sad book that is written in such a calm manner Danticat style Its deep with so many issues that span across 3 generations of women Grandma Ifé Manman and her daughters Tante Atie Martine who moved to NY and her granddaughter Sophie the main character of this book seem to be victims of terrible circumstances constantly living in a nightmare I have uestions though was Tante Atie a lesbian? Her relationship and attachment with Louise made me think so Also was Martine suffering from psychosis?Reading this book teaches you to empathize with others So many people in this world are going through shit Some women can't sleep at night because of sexual abuse; Some women hate themselves and their bodies because of sexual abuse; Some peoples' marriages are suffering because of sexual abuse from the past; CulturalFamily practices that police girls' sexuality have severe adverse effects on women There are so many layers to this tale and Danticat's passionate writing definitely makes you empathize I doubt I'd ever read Breath Eyes Memory again but I'm glad I finally read it MORE ON THE BOOK BLOG SOON africanbookaddictcom