Home > Edwidge Danticat > #1. Breath, Eyes, Memory

#1. Breath, Eyes, Memory

I dismissed this book at first, as being “too simple.” I had read only one chapter. Pretty arrogant of me, I’ll admit, and the only thing I can say in my defense is that I was reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita [to be reviewed later] at the same time. In the words of John Updike, Nabokov’s prose is written “ecstatically.” Very few books can hope to compete. And so to be fair, I put aside Lolita for three or four days–in order to clear my mind. I picked up Breath, Eyes, Memory yesterday and just finished reading it an hour or so ago.

It is true, the book is written in a simplistic style. The story follows closely the lives of four women–the Cacos: daughter, mother, aunt, and grandmother–and the trials they face both at home in Haiti and across the water, in New York. But Edwidge Danticat uses that simplicity to her advantage: her words trip almost lightly over horrible situations, thus magnifying their impact ten-fold. To describe a rape scene, for example, Danticat has the mother say to her 12-year old daughter:

“The details are too much,” […]. “But it happened like this. A man grabbed me from the side of the road, pulled me into the cane field, and put you in my body. I was still a young girl then, just barely older than you.”

The gaps she leaves in the story scream louder than any words can. They also lend the whole narrative an easy grace, which makes it enjoyable to read.

Would I recommend this book?

I’d give it two stars, I think. It’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time. And it does wonders in opening up the world of Haiti to the curious reader–in intimate detail.

Categories: Edwidge Danticat
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