Many of the reviews provided here reflect my own views on texs that have made an important contribution in my teaching and scholarship. Reviews published in other sources can be accessed directly through those sources. Other reviews are published here. Check back frequently for updates on new and interesting works.
Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. New York: Knopf Press, 2007. 272pp
At the heart of this deeply moving tale of one woman’s love for her father and father-uncle lays the complex political and social entanglements of the United States and Haiti, and those trapped in limbo between the two nations. In the first part of the novel, Danticat describes her early life in Haiti where she negotiates her divided loyalty to her perennially absent father, who parented her and her brother Bob from a mystical place in her young mind called New York, and the Haitian uncle on whose enduring presence she could always rely.
The author weaves a tale of a strong family, though scattered, that is fiercely loyal and devoted to each other. Their love envelops even those who do not share their DNA, but binds them through their humanity. When her parents abandon her to the care of Joseph Dantica and his wife, both easily assume the role of dutiful parents. When Danticat and her brother Bob join their parents and new siblings, Kelly and Karl, in New York, her allegiance to her uncle and her parents conflict.
The second part of the story leads up to the events of 2004 when the 81-year old Joseph Dantica flees certain death from gangs in his Bel Air neighborhood in Haiti to Miami, where uncle and niece expect to reunite. Unfortunately, U.S. immigration bureaucracy, bigotry, and cultural insensitivity intervene, and Joseph Dantica, who is jailed at Krome Detention Center upon his arrival in Miami for crimes unknown, dies in custody, shackled and humiliated, at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital from undiagnosed and untreated pancreatitis. Simultaneously, while trying to gather the resources to secure her uncle’s release, the pregnant Danticat also attempts to coordinate, from her Miami home, her father’s treatment in New York, for his lung disease. Her efforts fail; the brothers die within five months of each other, both events punctuated by the birth of Danticat’s daughter Mira.
For almost ten years now, fans of Edwidge Danticat’s works have joined her on the roller coaster ride through the heart of darkness that permeates the struggles of Haiti’s people to garner social, political, and economic dignities accorded to others, and still returned for more. From her debut novel Breath, Eyes, Memory (1998), the story of how young Sophie fights to adjust to the sudden departure from her Tante Atie’s home in Croix-des-Rosets, Haiti, to go live with her mother in New York City to her latest nonfiction installment, the celebrated Haitian writer continues to both haunt and enthrall readers.
The themes of her writing career span a morbid terrain, from separation, loss, and death to political brutality, sexual violence, incest, rape, massacres and other brutalities sprinkled with doses of triumph. Yet, amidst this turmoil, Danticat’s fictional protagonists and the people of Haiti to whom she constantly pays homage have always found ways to persist, even where a hopeful future seems uncertain. In 2004, the author becomes character in her own real-life nightmare as she battles to save her uncle, father, and bring new life into the world. Suddenly, Danticat must draw on the strength with which she imbues her protagonists, especially the women, as the realities of Haiti and the United States, both home, again collide. Danticat has reached an important milestone in her career. Brother, I’m Dying takes readers on a deeply personal journey with the author, coming full circle from where she started us with her first protagonist Sophie in Breath, Eyes, Memory to this latest installment.
Time Reveals All!!
Kincaid, Jamaica. See Now Then: A Novel. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. Hardcover. 182 pp.
In a bitingly honest and sardonically comedic style developed through a writing career that spans more than thirty years, Antiguan-born author and Vermont resident Jamaica Kincaid reveals the vicissitudes of marriage and parenting under the weight and stresses of time, which she explores in its dual forms of “Now” and “Then.”
Following a ten-year publication hiatus, Kincaid’s latest work, billed as a novel, pushes the boundaries of the genre in ways reminiscent of A Small Place, but also reflects an author whose experimentation with style, narrative voice, and characters have matured, becoming more daring, complex and deeply personal.
Occupying the minds of each of her four main characters, Mr. Sweet, Mrs. Sweet, the Young Heracles and the beautiful Persephone, it is difficult to ignore the obvious allusions to her previous works and the autobiographical elements in spite of Kincaid’s strong objections. Is Kincaid really asking her readers to ignore, not focus on the glaring parallels to her real life? Strong arguments can be made to characterize this work as autobiographical fiction, where readers encounter an author, whether in truth or fiction, reflecting on failed marriage, struggling children, life choices and the nature of time itself. (Comming soon to Callaloo . . .)