I just finished Edwidge Danticat‘s Brother, I’m Dying, her memoir about her father, the uncle who raised her and her homeland, Haiti, and I am literally breathless. This is one powerful story, told with a level-headed elegance that belies the heartbreak it must have been for Danticat to experience and write.
From the very first line, the reader knows that this will be a book about life and death:
I found out I was pregnant the same day that my father’s rapid weight loss and chronic shortness of breath were positively diagnosed as end-stage pulmonary fibrosis.
From this pivotal point, Danticat unfolds the story of her family. Her father and mother left her and her brother, Bob, in Haiti, with her Uncle Joseph and Tante Denise, while they started a new life in New York. They were unable to bring their children to America for many years. Edwidge grew up with and Uncle and Aunt who also took many other children into their home, so big were their hearts, and longed to see her parents again even though she scarcely knew them and simultaneously feared leaving her Uncle behind.
This is the story of two brothers and a country whose history has been fraught with tumult and violence. Danticat writes with her emotions mostly contained, in such a spare, journalistic voice that there are moments when you become arrested by the images, the emotions that become trapped in the narrative like amber.
I don’t want to say too much more about the story that Brother, I’m Dying tells. I don’t want to take away any of the impact that this story has. But for the first time in a long time this is a book that I want to simply hand to people and say: “Read this.” Danticat’s honest, heartbreaking story about family and country is a true love song to life itself.