Breath, Eyes, Memory: A Novel

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Breath, Eyes, Memory: A Novel

by Edwidge Danticat

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | May 18, 1998 | Trade Paperback

3.5 out of 5 rating. 2 Reviews
At an astonishingly young age, Edwidge Danticat has become one of our most celebrated new novelists, a writer who evokes the wonder, terror, and heartache of her native Haiti--and the enduring strength of Haiti''s women--with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people''s suffering and courage.  

At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti--to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 256 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.39 in

Published: May 18, 1998

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 037570504x

ISBN - 13: 9780375705045

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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– More About This Product –

Breath, Eyes, Memory: A Novel

Breath, Eyes, Memory: A Novel

by Edwidge Danticat

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 256 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.39 in

Published: May 18, 1998

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 037570504x

ISBN - 13: 9780375705045

Read from the Book

Chapter 1 A flattened and drying daffodil was dangling off the little card that I had made my aunt Atie for Mother''s Day. I pressed my palm over the flower and squashed it against the plain beige cardboard. When I turned the corner near the house, I saw her sitting in an old rocker in the yard, staring at a group of children crushing dried yellow leaves into the ground. The leaves had been left in the sun to dry. They would be burned that night at the konbit potluck dinner. I put the card back in my pocket before I got to the yard. When Tante Atie saw me, she raised the piece of white cloth she was embroidering and waved it at me. When I stood in front of her, she opened her arms just wide enough for my body to fit into them. "How was school?" she asked, with a big smile. She bent down and kissed my forehead, then pulled me down onto her lap. "School was all right," I said. "I like everything but those reading classes they let parents come to in the afternoon. Everybody''s parents come except you. I never have anyone to read with, so Monsieur Augustin always pairs me off with an old lady who wants to learn her letters, but does not have children at the school." "I do not want a pack of children teaching me how to read," she said. "The young should learn from the old. Not the other way. Besides, I have to rest my back when you have your class. I have work." A blush of embarrassment rose to her brown cheeks. "At one time,
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From the Publisher

At an astonishingly young age, Edwidge Danticat has become one of our most celebrated new novelists, a writer who evokes the wonder, terror, and heartache of her native Haiti--and the enduring strength of Haiti''s women--with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people''s suffering and courage.  

At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti--to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.

From the Jacket

At an astonishingly young age, Edwidge Danticat has become one of our most celebrated new novelists, a writer who evokes the wonder, terror, and heartache of her native Haiti--and the enduring strength of Haiti''s women--with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people''s suffering and courage.
At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti--to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.

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.

Author Interviews

Q: Why did you decide to write Breath, Eyes, Memory ? A: I started Breath, Eyes, Memory when I was still in high school after writing an article for a New York City teen newspaper about my leaving Haiti and coming to the United States as a child. After the article was done I felt there was more to the story, so I decided to write a short story about a young girl who leaves Haiti to come to the United States to be reunited with her mother, who she doesn’t really know. The story just grew and grew and as it grew I began to weave more and more fictional elements into it and added some themes that concerned me. Q: What would you say those themes are? A: One of the most important themes is migration, the separation of families, and how much that affects the parents and children who live through that experience. My father left Haiti to come to New York seeking a better life--economically and politically--when I was only two years old, and my mother when I was four years old. I was raised by my aunt and uncle, and even though I understood, I think, early on the great sacrifices that my parents were making, I still missed them very much. But having formed parental-type relationships with my aunt and uncle, I was really torn and heartbroken when I had to leave them to be reunited with my parents in New York. So I wanted to deal with that from the point of view of a child who’s faced with this situation. I wanted to include some of the political realities of Haiti--as a young girl felt
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From Our Editors

Set in Haiti's impoverished villages and in New York's Haitian community, this is the story of Sophie Caco, who was conceived in an act of violence, abandoned by her mother and then summoned to America. But in New York, Sophie discovers that Haiti imposes harsh rules on its own. This award-winning 24-year-old Haitian-American's evocative novel explores the bonds joining four generations of women. Breath, Eyes, Memory is an unforgettable novel that shimmers with the wonder and terror of Edwidge Danticat's native Haiti.

Editorial Reviews

"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

Bookclub Guide

US

1. Edwidge Danticat has said that in Haiti, "Everything is a story. Everything is a metaphor or a proverb." How does the character of grandmother Ifé; personify this tendency? How do some of the proverbs and tales she tells Sophie relate to the events and themes of the novel?

2. As a young girl, Martine''s favorite color was daffodil yellow; in middle age she is obsessed with the color red. What significance and associations do these colors have for her? In what way does the change from yellow to red symbolize the change in Martine''s own character? Does Danticat use color symbolically elsewhere in the story?

3. Martine once hoped to be a doctor; later, she transfers her ambitions to Sophie. "If you make something of yourself in life," she says to her daughter, "we will all succeed. You can raise our heads" (p. 44). Why does Sophie consciously reject her mother''s ideal of high achievement? Why does she choose to become a secretary rather than, for instance, a doctor?

4. The character of Atie is perhaps the most complex and mysterious in the novel. Why is Atie so changed when Sophie returns to Haiti? Why does she so resolutely stick to her idea of staying with her mother and doing her "duty," even though Ifé; says, "Atie, she should go. She cannot stay out of duty. The things one does, one should do out of love" (p. 119)? What does "chagrin" mean to Atie? What significance does the act of writing in her notebook take on in her life?

5. Atie says to Sophie, "Your mother and I, when we were children we had no control over anything. Not even this body" (p. 20). How does this knowledge help Sophie shape her life? In what ways does Sophie take control of her own life as her mother and aunt never were able to?

6. In the graveyard, Atie reminds Sophie to walk straight, since she is in the presence of family. Grandmother Ifé; plans carefully for her death, which she thinks of as a "journey" (p. 195). How does Sophie''s grandmother''s attitude toward death and the dead, as illustrated in this novel, compare with American ones? How does each culture attempt to foster a sense of wholeness, of continuity, between the generations?

7. Sophie feels that Haitians in America have a bad image as "boat people." Are her efforts to assimilate, to become "American," in any way related to her physical self-loathing ("I hate my body. I am ashamed to show it to anybody, including my husband" [p. 123])? How does her bulimia express such self-loathing?

8. Breath, Eyes, Memory is primarily a story of the relationships between women: mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters. But there are two significant male characters in the novel, Joseph and Marc. Does Danticat depict Joseph and Marc as full, rounded-out characters, or do we see them only through Sophie''s slanted point of view? How does Sophie express her ambivalent feelings about both of them? Why is she so angry with Marc after her mother''s death? Do you feel that her anger is justified? Is it possible that Sophie''s aloofness from both these men stems from her upbringing in an almost exclusively female world, where "men were as mysterious to me as white people" (p. 67)?

9. The Haitian goddess Erzulie is both a goddess of love and the Virgin Mary. What does this tell you about the Haitian culture and its ideas of love and religion? How does this differ from American and European culture?

10. Martine''s rape by an unknown man, possibly a Macoute, is the defining event in her life, bringing with it overpowering feelings of fear and self-loathing which she passes on to her daughter. Sophie''s therapist even suggests that Martine undergo an exorcism. How does Sophie in her own way succeed in "exorcising" the evil events of the past? "It was up to me to avoid my turn in the fire" (p. 203), she says; how does she achieve this?

11. When Sophie breaks her maidenhead with the pestle, she likens it to "breaking manacles, an act of freedom" (p. 130). What exactly does "freedom" mean to Sophie? Which of her other actions represent bids for freedom and autonomy? What does she accomplish when, at the end of the novel, she beats the stalks of sugar cane? What does the final cry of "Ou libéré;" (p. 233) mean to Sophie? To Atie? Do you feel that Martine in some manner "liberated" herself by committing suicide? Or was her act one of submission?

12. Do you believe that the three women in the sexual phobia group have comparable problems? Is the word "abuse" equally appropriate in each of their cases? How effective is their joint attempt to free themselves from their past? Is Buki''s wrecked balloon a pessimistic symbol? Do you believe that the therapist''s psychological tools are adequate to deal with the complex, culturally rooted problems of Sophie and Buki?

13. What is the significance of Martine''s "Marassas" story in the context of the relationship between Martine and Sophie? Why does Martine tell the story to Sophie as if she is "testing" her? Why is the theme of likeness, of identification between mother and daughter, so important to Martine? Why does Sophie resist it? When she comes to terms with her mother at the end of the novel, is it because she identifies with her mother or because she comes to feel independent of her? Or both? Do you sense that she has fully forgiven Martine for the hurt she has caused her?

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