Sunday, July 05, 2009
Brother, I’m Dying
7 hours and 51 minutes (audio book)
narrated by Robin Miles
I’ve never read any of Danticat’s books (and technically, I still haven’t), but this one surprised me. Not really knowing what to expect, I ended up listening to a powerful family memoir, a tribute to both Danticat’s father and uncle, as well as a story of Haiti and its people.
When Danticat was a young girl, first her father then her mother left seeking a better life in the United States, leaving Edwidge and her younger brother in the care of their paternal uncle, Joseph. It would be eight years before the siblings would be able to join their parents and two younger brothers in New York.
Brother, I’m Dying begins with Danticat learning that her father is dying. On that same day, she also learns she is pregnant. As she tells of her struggles to come to terms with these changes, she also reflects back on her life, her father’s life, and her uncle’s life in Haiti. As she tells their stories, what shines through is her deep love and respect for both men. Danticat interweaves Haitian political history with the individual stories of various family members. Her Uncle Joseph is clearly the hub of the family, a man who willingly cares for various extended family members as if they were his own. Joseph eventually becomes the pastor of his own church in Bellaire, a man who is deeply concerned about his community and who is unwilling to leave despite political tension.
As Danticat chronicles Joseph’s life, she also weaves in the progression of her father’s illness. As he becomes increasingly frail, Joseph’s life also takes a dramatic turn. In 2004, after political trouble in Bellaire threatens his life, he finally flees Haiti. Upon attempting to seek political asylum in the US, he is sent to Krome, a Miami detention center. Shortly thereafter, he dies. Then, not too long after the birth of Danticat’s daughter, her father also passes away.
I’m sure if I was reading it, I would have been bawling by the end, even knowing what was coming, and that both men had lived full lives. But since I was listening to the audio version (while driving!), I fought off the tears. But knowing how deeply Danticat loved and admired both men makes the ending difficult to accept.
The only part of the book that I struggled with was the initial part of Joseph’s final arrival in the US. It’s apparent that Danticat did some heavy research to uncover her uncle’s last hours, and at times the dispassionate recitation of airport and immigration facts is a bit jarring. However, juxtaposed against the final outcome, it becomes pretty powerful.
Robin Miles does an amazing job of narrating this story. She slips in and out of Haitian Creole, French and accented English effortlessly, and the lilting accents of the various Danticats are particularly beautiful.
If you like memoirs and audio books, this is a winning combination.