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Breath, Eyes, Memory
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About the Author

Edwidge Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1969. Her parents emigrated to New York when she was a small child, while she and her brother remained in Haiti, where they were raised by an aunt and uncle. At the age of twelve she moved to Brooklyn to be with her parents. Danticat began writing as a teenager, and her essays and stories have appeared in many periodicals. She received a degree in French literature from Barnard College and an MFA in writing from Brown University. At Brown she completed work on "Breath, Eyes, Memory," which she had begun as an undergraduate, and the novel was published in 1994. After finishing her master's degree, Danticat worked in Clinica Estetico, the production office of film director Jonathan Demme, who has a consuming interest in Haiti. She read and wrote scripts and continues to monitor and occasionally protest American policy in Haiti. In late 1994, Danticat returned to Haiti for the first time in thirteen years, to see President Aristide restored to power. Danticat is the recipient of a James Michener Fellowship and awards from "Seventeen" magazine and from "Essence." She is also the author of a collection of Haitian stories, "Krik? Krak!," which was a National Book Award finalist, and the novel, "The Farming of Bones" (1998). She lives in New York City.

Reviews

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.)

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

"Danticat has created a stirring tale of life in two worlds: the spirit-rich land of her ancestry, whose painful themes work their way through lives across generational lines, and her adopted country, the United States, where a young immigrant girl must negotiate cold, often hostile terrain, even as she spars with painful demons of her past."--Emerge

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