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Breath, Eyes, Memory

by Edwidge Danticat

Publishers Weekly A distinctive new voice with a sensitive insight into Haitian culture distinguishes this graceful debut novel about a young girl's coming of age under difficult circumstances. ``I come from a place where breath, eyes and memory are one, a place where you carry your past like the hair on your head,'' says narrator Sophie Caco, ruminating on the chains of duty and love that bind the courageous women in her family. The burden of being a woman in Haiti, where purity and chastity are a matter of family honor, and where ``nightmares are passed on through generations like heirlooms,'' is Danticat's theme. Born after her mother Martine was raped, Sophie is raised by her Tante Atie in a small town in Haiti. At 12 she joins Martine in New York, while Atie returns to her native village to care for indomitable Grandmother Ife. Neither Sophie nor Martine can escape the weight of the past, resulting in a pattern of insomnia, bulimia, sexual trauma and mental anguish that afflicts both of them and leads inexorably to tragedy. Though her tale is permeated with a haunting sadness, Danticat also imbues it with color and magic, beautifully evoking the pace and character of Creole life, the feel of both village and farm communities, where the omnipresent Tontons Macoute mean daily terror, where voudon rituals and superstitions still dominate even as illiterate inhabitants utilize such 20th-century conveniences as cassettes to correspond with emigres in America. In simple, lyrical prose enriched by an elegiac tone and piquant observations, she makes Sophie's confusion and guilt, her difficult assimilation into American culture and her eventual emotional liberation palpably clear. Paperback rights to Vintage; author tour. (Apr.)

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Told from the viewpoint of a young Haitian American, this novel concentrates on relationships between generations of women, both in Haiti and in the United States. Sophie's mother leaves Haiti to find work in the States, and Sopie soon follows, growing up troubled in New York until she exorcises her demons in a Santeria ceremony. The book's strength lies in the rarity of its Haitian viewpoint, a voice seldom heard in American literature. However, the writing itself falls a bit flat. The characters and plot are interesting, but the narrative style doesn't evoke the emotional response that would seem appropriate to the action. Danticat is herself a 24-year-old Haitian American who, like the novel's narrator, came to the United States in her early teens to join her family. Her first novel shows promise of better works in the future. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-- Marie F. Jones, Muskingum Coll. Lib., New Concord, Ohio

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Sexual traumas link a Haitian mother and her daughter in this wonderfully self-assured debut by 24-year-old Haitian-American Danticat. The world of Sophie Caco, her beloved guardian Tante Atie, and her grandmother Ifé, the matriarch of this peasant family, is bounded by the sugar-cane fields of rural Haiti. When 12-year-old Sophie is summoned to New York to live with the family provider, Maxine, the mother she cannot remember, she is dismayed. Maxine is perpetually tired after her nursing-home double-shift; she lives alone and dates a lawyer called Marc. She also tells Sophie that she is the product of a rape; a stranger forced himself on Maxine in a sugar-cane field. Seeing her daughter again has revived memories of the rape, and Maxine is suffering constant nightmares. Six years later, Sophie, who has never had a boyfriend, falls in love with their much older next-door neighbor Joseph, a black American jazz musician. Maxine follows a Haitian tradition and checks regularly to make sure Sophie is still a virgin. Horrified by this violation of her body, Sophie deflowers herself with a pestle and elopes with Joseph, enduring sex because she now hates her body, though her baby Brigitte is a consolation. Slowly, through her family's sheltering love on a return visit to Haiti and the new-world ministrations of her therapist, Sophie comes to understand her mother (``I knew my hurt and hers were links in a long chain''), but it's too late: Maxine, pregnant by Marc and racked by nightmares again, dies during a crude self-abortion. Danticat keeps graceful control of this difficult material while adroitly sketching the larger political context and making both peasants and pediatricians equally convincing. An impressive first outing.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Choice Danticat's first published novel moves back and forth between the author's two homes, Haiti and the US, touching on the characters' complex relationships to both places. The central protagonist must come to terms not only with her place in a long line of strong women, but also with the violence inflicted on them by strangers and by their own mothers. The "test," used by generations of Haitian mothers to ascertain their daughters' virginity, is revealed as a violation which cripples women's spirits and suppresses their sexuality. It also, inevitably, distorts mother/daughter relationships. The style of the novel is lyrical and often arresting, the narrative fast paced. The information it contains about Haiti, while incidental, is substantial. The characters are convincing and sympathetic. The sexual violation theme does, however, seem heavy-handed at times. The main character, Sophie, and her mother, for instance, have fewer dimensions than one might wish. In all, this is a very readable, moving story. General and academic audiences. J. Tharp; University of Wisconsin--Marshfield-Wood County

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly A distinctive new voice with a sensitive insight into Haitian culture distinguishes this graceful debut novel about a young girl's coming of age under difficult circumstances. ``I come from a place where breath, eyes and memory are one, a place where you carry your past like the hair on your head,'' says narrator Sophie Caco, ruminating on the chains of duty and love that bind the courageous women in her family. The burden of being a woman in Haiti, where purity and chastity are a matter of family honor, and where ``nightmares are passed on through generations like heirlooms,'' is Danticat's theme. Born after her mother Martine was raped, Sophie is raised by her Tante Atie in a small town in Haiti. At 12 she joins Martine in New York, while Atie returns to her native village to care for indomitable Grandmother Ife. Neither Sophie nor Martine can escape the weight of the past, resulting in a pattern of insomnia, bulimia, sexual trauma and mental anguish that afflicts both of them and leads inexorably to tragedy. Though her tale is permeated with a haunting sadness, Danticat also imbues it with color and magic, beautifully evoking the pace and character of Creole life, the feel of both village and farm communities, where the omnipresent Tontons Macoute mean daily terror, where voudon rituals and superstitions still dominate even as illiterate inhabitants utilize such 20th-century conveniences as cassettes to correspond with emigres in America. In simple, lyrical prose enriched by an elegiac tone and piquant observations, she makes Sophie's confusion and guilt, her difficult assimilation into American culture and her eventual emotional liberation palpably clear. Paperback rights to Vintage; author tour. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Told from the viewpoint of a young Haitian American, this novel concentrates on relationships between generations of women, both in Haiti and in the United States. Sophie's mother leaves Haiti to find work in the States, and Sopie soon follows, growing up troubled in New York until she exorcises her demons in a Santeria ceremony. The book's strength lies in the rarity of its Haitian viewpoint, a voice seldom heard in American literature. However, the writing itself falls a bit flat. The characters and plot are interesting, but the narrative style doesn't evoke the emotional response that would seem appropriate to the action. Danticat is herself a 24-year-old Haitian American who, like the novel's narrator, came to the United States in her early teens to join her family. Her first novel shows promise of better works in the future. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-- Marie F. Jones, Muskingum Coll. Lib., New Concord, Ohio (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Sexual traumas link a Haitian mother and her daughter in this wonderfully self-assured debut by 24-year-old Haitian-American Danticat. The world of Sophie Caco, her beloved guardian Tante Atie, and her grandmother If, the matriarch of this peasant family, is bounded by the sugar-cane fields of rural Haiti. When 12-year-old Sophie is summoned to New York to live with the family provider, Maxine, the mother she cannot remember, she is dismayed. Maxine is perpetually tired after her nursing-home double-shift; she lives alone and dates a lawyer called Marc. She also tells Sophie that she is the product of a rape; a stranger forced himself on Maxine in a sugar-cane field. Seeing her daughter again has revived memories of the rape, and Maxine is suffering constant nightmares. Six years later, Sophie, who has never had a boyfriend, falls in love with their much older next-door neighbor Joseph, a black American jazz musician. Maxine follows a Haitian tradition and checks regularly to make sure Sophie is still a virgin. Horrified by this violation of her body, Sophie deflowers herself with a pestle and elopes with Joseph, enduring sex because she now hates her body, though her baby Brigitte is a consolation. Slowly, through her family's sheltering love on a return visit to Haiti and the new-world ministrations of her therapist, Sophie comes to understand her mother (``I knew my hurt and hers were links in a long chain''), but it's too late: Maxine, pregnant by Marc and racked by nightmares again, dies during a crude self-abortion. Danticat keeps graceful control of this difficult material while adroitly sketching the larger political context and making both peasants and pediatricians equally convincing. An impressive first outing.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Choice Danticat's first published novel moves back and forth between the author's two homes, Haiti and the US, touching on the characters' complex relationships to both places. The central protagonist must come to terms not only with her place in a long line of strong women, but also with the violence inflicted on them by strangers and by their own mothers. The "test," used by generations of Haitian mothers to ascertain their daughters' virginity, is revealed as a violation which cripples women's spirits and suppresses their sexuality. It also, inevitably, distorts mother/daughter relationships. The style of the novel is lyrical and often arresting, the narrative fast paced. The information it contains about Haiti, while incidental, is substantial. The characters are convincing and sympathetic. The sexual violation theme does, however, seem heavy-handed at times. The main character, Sophie, and her mother, for instance, have fewer dimensions than one might wish. In all, this is a very readable, moving story. General and academic audiences. J. Tharp; University of Wisconsin--Marshfield-Wood County

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.