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Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994)

by Edwidge Danticat

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Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
Very good. Themes: Haitian girl and her mother. cultural abuse. The land is our mother.
[read 2001-18 yr ago] ( )
  juniperSun | Jan 18, 2019 |
in contrast to the book i had just finished (la bastarda) this book absolutely saturates the reader in haitian culture and feeling, through the characters and what they experience. this is such an excellent example of how to both tell a compelling story while also showing people what life for some people in a different culture/country is like. beautifully done and the language is wonderful.

it's not perfect, though, and the introduction of bulimia was handled awkwardly without enough followup and exposition. (this was the main thing that bothered me about the book, and that cost it a star or more.) it was perfectly believable but i think needed to be handled differently, and more in depth, especially for how late it was introduced. the last quarter or so fell off for me, partially because of this, which is too bad because the resolution of the story is excellent and the writing fantastic. still overall very well done. ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Jul 2, 2018 |
I picked this as my bookclub selection because I had so loved a collection of her short stories but this did not have quite the same magic. Perhaps because the issues it deals with are so very grim. It was still a powerful and moving story but hard to read and at some level hard to connect with. The women in the story, esp. Martine and Sophie, are so very damaged. At the core, it feels like a story of how women are as trapped by other women as by a deeply patriarchal society. Not easy topics to read about. Worth reading but hard to read.
1 vote amyem58 | Nov 20, 2017 |
This was a great book although the subject matter is not an easy one to discuss. My library book club group is discussing it on May 28, 2007 so it will be interesting to see what they think. We are all women but I would love to know what a male's take on it would be.

Sophie is a 12 year old Haitian living with her aunt in a town in Haiti. Her mother moved to New York when Sophie was very young and so her aunt (Tante Atie) is the only mother she has ever known. As the story opens Sophie comes home from school with a Mother's Day card that she has made for her aunt. But her aunt says that the card is for Sophie's mother and she won't take it. A few hours later Sophie learns that her mother has sent for her to come to New York to live. In New York Sophie learns that she was the result of a rape and her mother still has terrible nightmares from that event.

Sexual trauma occurs to Sophie too because her mother insists on "testing" her to ensure that she is still a virgin. Eventually, Sophie physically tears her hymen (causing herself vaginal injuries in the process) and leaves her mother's house to marry an older jazz musician. Sophie travels back to Haiti with her newborn daughter to confront her family history. Can she learn to live with her husband and enjoy the sexual act? Will she continue the pattern of abuse with her daughter? Will she reconcile with her mother? These are things she hopes to discover with her trip.

Random house has a readers guide and an author interview that may help in interpreting this book. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 9, 2017 |
Ellie (mirrordrum) had recommended I read Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, after I'd enjoyed other Danticat books, and that was a good call. This apparently was her debut novel, set in Haiti and New York City.

"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 our narrator Sophie Caco. The child of rape by an unknown father, she lives with her Tante Atie in a small town in Haiti while her mother sends back money to help them from NYC. The book revolves around family expectations and how to survive them intact, including that daughters remain virginal. Sophie, her mother and grandmother, and Tante Atie, all experience traumatic practices that have been passed down from generation to generation.

At 12 years old, Sophie joins her mother Martine in New York, and both try to reconcile and escape past tragedy. There is sadness in the story, but also beauty, including the bucolic life in Haiti and the struggles of immigrants to make it in New York. Sophie faces many challenges, and is relentlessly observant. Danticat has a graceful, hypnotic prose style, and this is one of her best. ( )
  jnwelch | Jul 1, 2017 |
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To the brave women of Haiti,
grandmothers, mothers, aunts,
sisters, cousins, daughters, and friends,
on this shore and other shores.
We have stumbled but we will not fall.
First words
A flattened and drying daffodil was dangling off the little card that I had made my aunt Atie for Mother's Day.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 037570504X, Paperback)

Oprah Book Club® Selection, May 1998: "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 head. Where women return to their children as butterflies or as tears in the eyes of the statues that their daughters pray to." The place is Haiti and the speaker is Sophie, the heroine of Edwidge Danticat's novel, "Breath, Eyes, Memory." Like her protagonist, Danticat is also Haitian; like her, she was raised in Haiti by an aunt until she came to the United States at age 12. Indeed, in her short stories, Danticat has often drawn on her background to fund her fiction, and she continues to do so in her debut novel.

The story begins in Haiti, on Mother's Day, when young Sophie discovers that she is about to leave the only home she has ever known with her Tante Atie in Croix-des-Rosets, Haiti, to go live with her mother in New York City. These early chapters in Haiti are lovely, subtly evoking the tender, painful relationship between the motherless child and the childless woman who feels honor bound to guard the natural mother's rights to the girl's affections above her own. Presented with a Mother's Day card, Tante Atie responds: "'It is for a mother, your mother.' She motioned me away with a wave of her hand. 'When it is Aunt's Day, you can make me one.'" Danticat also uses these pages to limn a vibrant portrait of life in Haiti from the cups of ginger tea and baskets of cassava bread served at community potlucks to the folk tales of a "people in Guinea who carry the sky on their heads."

With Sophie's transition from a fairly happy existence with her aunt and grandmother in rural Haiti to life in New York with a mother she has never seen, Danticat's roots as a short-story writer become more evident; "Breath, Eyes, Memory" begins to read more like a collection of connected stories than a seamlessly evolved novel. In a couple of short chapters, Sophie arrives in New York, meets her mother, makes the acquaintance of her mother's new boyfriend, Marc, and discovers that she was the product of a rape when her mother was a teenager in Haiti. The novel then jumps several years ahead to Sophie's graduation from high school and her infatuation with an older man who lives next door. Unfortunately, this is also the point in the novel where Danticat begins to lay her themes on with a trowel instead of a brush: Sophie's mother becomes obsessed with protecting her daughter's virginity, going so far as to administer physical "tests" on a regular basis--testing which leads eventually to a rift in their relationship and to Sophie's struggle with her own sexuality. Soon the litany of victimization is flying thick and fast: female genital mutilation, incest, rape, frigidity, breast cancer, and abortion are the issues that arise in the final third of the novel, eventually drowning both fine writing and perceptive characterization under a deluge of angst.

Still, there is much to admire about "Breath, Eyes, Memory," and if at times the plot becomes overheated, Danticat's lyrical, vivid prose offers some real delight. If nothing else, this novel is sure to entice readers to look for Danticat's short stories--and possibly to sample other fiction from the West Indies as well. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:31 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from the impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York to be reunited with her mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know and where she gains a legacy of shame that can only be healed when she returns to Haiti, to the woman 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.… (more)

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