It's called "beating the darkness": the Haitian custom of brazenly clanging pots and pans to keep terror at bay. Behind this urgent domestic defense ("an act of protest, a cry for peace") that Edwidge Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory) evokes in a just-published family memoir is a persistent longing—for intimacy, rescue, love. The task of memoir is to probe such longing without necessarily assuaging it, ransoming the future by laying claim to the past. It's a delicate mission. In Brother, I'm Dying (Knopf), Danticat pieces together the dreams of her father and uncle, devoted brothers living worlds apart, in politically volatile Haiti and in America, the promised land. With the subtlest understanding of how families can splinter but still cohere, she relives the shock of separation, first when her mother and father emigrated to New York, leaving 4-year-old Edwidge and her brother behind, and again, eight years later, when they took the children back from the aunt and uncle who had become second parents. With a storyteller's magnetic force, Danticat draws the reader to the streets of Haiti, where cutthroat gangs and looters destroyed her uncle's church; to the hellish holding pen where this intensely moral refugee was shamed—like countless others—by U.S. immigration officials; to the hospital room where the brothers acknowledged their mutual heartbreak with resolute grace. "I am writing this...because they can't," Danticat tells us, giving voice to an attachment too deep for words.
— Cathleen Medwick
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, December 7, 2013