Sunday, November 3, 2013

Breath, Eyes, Memory

Title:  Breath, Eyes, Memory
Author:  Edwidge Danticat
Publication Information:  Vintage Books, Random House Inc. 1994. 234 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Favorite Quote:  "Ou libere? Are you free, my daughter?"

Breath, Eyes, Memory is a book written in discrete sections. In the first section, we meet Sophie Caco, who is born and raised in Haiti. She has lived with her Aunt Atie since she was a baby when her mother left Haiti and went to New York. Sophie loves her aunt like a mother; yet, Aunt Atie is always careful to remind her of her "true" mother. One day, when Sophie is twelve, her mother summons her to New York. This section of the book ends as Sophie adjusts to her life with her mother and learns the devastating secret of her birth.

The second section begins when Sophie is eighteen - a six year gap. We learn of Sophie finding love and of a traumatizing cultural tradition of testing girls for their "purity". The section ends with Sophie's extreme decision and and action to escape.

The third section picks up a year or two later as Sophie returns to Haiti with her own infant daughter. Four generations of women - Sophie, her daughter, her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother - come together in anger, in love, in reconciliation, and in understanding.

The fourth and final section is upon the return of Sophie, her mother, and her daughter to the United States.

The book has the potential to be a very powerful story. The organization into discrete sections that skip time periods prevents its from completely achieving that potential. The movement from section to section pulls the reader away from the emotion, particularly as the first two sections end on such emotional points - the story of Sophie's birth and her actions to escape her past and tradition.

At those points, as a reader, I am not ready to move on. I want to know more and want the emotions and relationships to be further developed. It feels like the book drops a bombshell and then shows the impact only after passage of time. The immediate impact is left unexplored. A sad set of events. Compelling characters. But a story that stops short of being completely engrossing.

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