Friday, August 08, 2008

Purity and Shame

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

I'd actually wanted to order Brother, I'm Dying by the same author based on this review, but when I looked it up on Amazon, I realized it was going to come out in paper back very soon, and decided not to spend the money on a hardcover as a result. Instead, I decided to give this a try.

I really enjoyed the first half of the novel, but I feel like it lost steam or something in the last half. Maybe I just felt like some things were left too open or unanswered (even though it's not exactly open-ended; I just felt like there could have been more). I'd definitely still recommend it, and will pick up Brother, I'm Dying.

After being raised in Haiti by her aunt, Sophie has to join her mother in the United States when she sends for her. Twelve year old Sophie doesn't remember her mother, and would rather stay with her aunt, but accepts her fate. Once with her mother, Sophie more or less adjusts to her new life, and her mother labors endlessly to give her daughter the opportunity to get a good education. When Sophie meets a man at 18, her mother worries about this upsetting Sophie's future, and also shows an abnormal obsession with ensuring her daughter's purity. As a result, Sophie and her mother have a huge falling out.

A few years later, Sophie returns to Haiti to visit her family, and get some clarity on her past. She discovers this obsession with purity also plagued her mother, her aunt, her grandmother and other generations as they were growing up, which makes it easier for her to understand and forgive her mother's actions. Additionally, she finally gets the whole story on her conception and birth.

While Sophie is in therapy to deal with her problems, it doesn't necessarily seem to be helping her too much. Her mother, however, is afraid to confront her past, and ends up being destroyed by it. Danticat not only explores the generational bond between the women in the novel, but also shows hints of the violence and unrest that were occuring as a result of politics in Haiti.

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