BREATH, EYES, MEMORY
A Book Review
Dr. Derick Hendricks
Morgan State University
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for History 350.150
October 1, 2011
Edwidge Danticat. Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York: Vintage Books, 1998. 2nd Vintage Contemporaries Edition. 236 pp.
Introduction To The Author
Edwidge Danticat was born on January 19, 1969 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At the age of two her father immigrated to the United States and two years later her mother followed leaving Danticat and her brother in Haiti to be raised by an aunt and uncle. When she was twelve she and her brother moved to Brooklyn, New York to live with their parents, much like her protagonist Sophie in the book. She went on to receive a degree in French literature from Barnard College and a Master of Fine Arts degree at Brown. Breath, Eyes, Memory is her first novel, which she began writing as an undergraduate at Barnard. Finished as her MFA thesis, it was published in 1994 to critical acclaim. In the introduction to Starting With I, Danticat wrote, “When I was done with the [immigration] piece, I felt that my story was unfinished, so I wrote a short story, which later became a book, my first novel: Breath, Eyes, Memory…. Writing for New Youth Connections had given me a voice. My silence was destroyed completely, indefinitely.” She has taught creative writing at New York University and lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Summary Of The Book
Breath, Eyes, Memory is the story of a young Haitian woman's coming to terms with her country, her mother, and her own identity. The protagonist is Sophie Caco, who has spent a happy childhood in rural Haiti with her Grandmé Ifé and Tante Atie, who raised her as her own child. Sophie's mother, Martine, lives in Brooklyn, New York and supports the family with the money she sends home. When Sophie is twelve years old, Martine sends for her, and Sophie must leave the only home and family she knows to begin a new life in a strange country with a mother she hardly remembers. As Sophie overcomes her initial fears and becomes closer to her mother, she learns that for many years Martine has been tormented by memories of the anonymous man, Sophie's father, who violently raped her in the sugar cane field when she was just a teenager. Martine's nightmares repeatedly cause her anxiety and she ultimately brings her feelings of terror and guilt on her daughter. Sophie confines in Martine that she has a boyfriend at which point the “testing” begins. Sophie finds the “testing” and her mother’s controlling ways impossible to cope with so she breaks her own hymen and consequently fails the next “test”. She is thrown out of the house by Martine and elopes with Joseph, the next door musician who is quite older and she has fallen in love with. Unfortunately, Martine has left Sophie with emotional problems that continue to haunt her in her new life so in an attempt to come to terms with her past and her family, she leaves Joseph and takes her infant daughter to Haiti. There Sophie reconnects with her grandmother, aunt and her childhood. After several frantic calls from Joseph, Martine comes to Haiti find her daughter and there the three generations of women finally come to understand one another. After returning back to the States Sophie and Martine re-establish their bond but regrettably life ends tragically for Martine a few short weeks later. Sophie and Marc, Martine’s long-time Haitian-American companion, make the trip to Dame Marie for Martine's burial. During the funeral, unable to watch dirt being shoveled over her mother, Sophie runs into the cane fields, the scene of her mother's rape, and begins violently attacking the stalks. She has finally become free. Sophie is able to go back to her American life with new strength.
Breath, Eyes, Memory weaves several threads of sexuality, body image, generational bonds and conflicts, the immigrant...
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