Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book 53: Brother, I'm Dying

Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

I've read one other book by Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory which I mostly liked but also thought tried to do too much. In that slim novel, her protagonists dealt with breast cancer, suicide, rape and several other calamities that got to the point where they just seemed like they were tossed in for dramatic effect with none of them being completely dealt with. However, since it was her first novel, I figured any follow up would probably be worth looking at.

Brother, I'm Dying is actually nonfiction, and serves as a kind of family history, detailing the relationship between her, her uncle and her father. In the beginning chapter, Danticat finds out for sure that her father's illness is terminal and that she is pregnant. The title actually comes from an earlier episode when her uncle Joseph had come to the States for treatment of his throat cancer, and called his brother with that statement. However, a ambulance arrived in time to get him to a hospital and remove the cancer.

When Danticat was two years old, her father left Haiti for the States, and her mother followed two years later. Danticat and her brother Bob lived with her uncle Joseph and his wife for eight years before her parents were able to bring them to New York. Danticat discusses the hard lives that both her father figures had and the love she had for them. Additionally, she addresses how political upheavals and immigration laws impacted them. Joseph chose to stay in Haiti, and mostly made a good life for himself. Danticat's father, while younger, in ways seems to have had a harder life, aging much faster than his brother but when asked by his son, said he had a happy life.

While the novel is an interesting portrait of a family, it also serves as a critique of immigration policies, racism and classism in the United States. The final chapters devoted to Joseph are heartbreaking, and it is unbelievable how callously some people treat other human lives.

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