Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Last year, when developing my reading list for my ENGL 2000 course, I had decided to include Edwidge Danticat’s short story collection, Krik? Krak! on my list. It was a beautiful collection, and my students really dug into the stories last fall. I had picked up Breath, Eyes, Memory from Goodwill last year, and I finally read it this last month.
Sophie is haunted by the disappearance of her mother to America. Raised by her aunt and grandmother, she immerses herself in the family lore and Haitian identity. Until the change occurs. Her mother finally gets the money to bring her to America, and she is uprooted to find herself with a mother she barely remembers and with whom she must reacquaint herself over the years. Her life is punctuated by struggle and identity, as she must also understand what it means to be Haitian in America, American in Haiti, and a daughter, niece, granddaughter, wife, and mother. The story follows her from the age of about 12 to her young adulthood and provides a snapshot of a life lived in two very different nations.
This book is terrific in explaining the many parts of female identity and the mother-daughter relationship. A lot of writers talk about fathers and sons, but Danticat is adept at depicting mothers and daughters in a way that’s both poignant and meaningful. Further, this idea of identity as an immigrant also takes on significance, because Sophie has to figure herself out without her mother in Haiti, then with her mother in a foreign country, then again as a young adult woman whose beliefs have assimilated her two countries. While this was not my favorite of her works that I read so far, I do think it is important, and I would gladly teach it someday.