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From the age of four, award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph as her “second father,” when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for America. And so she was both elated and saddened when, at twelve, she joined her parents and youngest brothers in New York City. As Edwidge made a life in a new country, adjusting to being far away from so many who she loved, she and her family continued to fear for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorated.
In 2004, they entered into a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Brother, I'm Dying is an astonishing true-life epic, told on an intimate scale by one of our finest writers.
“Remarkable. . . . A fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love.” —The New York Times
"With a storyteller's magnetic force . . . [Danticat] gives voice to an attachment too deep for words.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Powerful. . . . Danticat employs the charms of a storyteller and the authority of a witness to evoke the political forces and personal sacrifices behind her parents' journey to this country and her uncle’s decision to stay behind.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Heartwrenching, intimate. . . . Through the seemingly effortless grace of Danticat’s words, a family's tragedy is transformed into a promise of collective hope.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Her power of language is so great, and at the same time, so subtle, that even those that cannot see her or understand her stories will be transformed by her impact on their world.” —Walter Mosley
“A classic that will be taught and looked at forever. A phenomenal book.” —Ann Patchett
“Extraordinary . . . Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying records the toll Haiti’s civil war took on the author’s family, both in their native land and in their country of refuge, America.”—Diane Cole, U.S. News & World Report (December 31, 2007/January 7, 2008)
“Danticat’s father left poverty and turmoil in his native Haiti and came to New York, where he drove a taxi for 20 years. His beloved brother, Joseph, stayed behind. The haunting, simply written story of the effect of exile on their families is also a memoir of the power of love against the sorrow of loss.”—Anne Stephenson, The Arizona Republic (December 28, 2007)
“Told in the spare, lyrical prose that marks Danticat’s fiction, [Brother, I’m Dying] moves quickly and directly through its complex stories, falling towards conclusions so stark and true and sad that I was startled to find myself crying. . . . As Danticat ages in the pages . . . the author’s spare style becomes ever more incisive, describing only what is necessary: her imagined version of her uncle’s experience on the rioting streets of Haiti in 2004, her own painful conversations with her mother about her father’s illness, the harrowing journey to the United States that results in her uncle’s death. . . . The last third of the book catapults the memoir, thus far a personal story on which politics touched into a searing story of the personal destruction wrought by immoral political policy. The transition is so smooth and so startling as to make you realize that even among the privileged, politics infect our lives with similar insidiousness. By the end of the book, Danticat has drawn us into her family’s world, and through it, into the realities of the world we live in.”—Gemma Cooper-Novack, Feminist Review (December 11, 2007)
“Through the seemingly effortless grace of Danticat’s words, a family’s tragedy is transformed into a promise of collective hope.”—Bloomsbury Review (December 1, 2007)
“A memoir of the highest order: substantive, unsentimental, lucid and beautiful . . . affecting.”—Holly Silva, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (December 9, 2007)
“Edwidge Danticat’s memoir Brother, I’m Dying is a breathtaking account of love, loss, and Haiti. . . . that captures her admiration for the two men who raised her and [is] a heartbreaking portrait of the hardscrabble life of Haitians, both in the United States and back home.”—Frank Houston, Broward Palm Beach News (November 1, 2007)
“More than just another family immigration; Danticat draws up a balance sheet of what is gained and lost from what seems like such a small decision as where to live and work. Her skills as a storyteller lend themselves well to this story, her own ‘origin myth.’”—Kel Munger, Sacramento News & Review (October 18, 2007)
“How does a novelist, who trades in events filtered through imagination and memory, recreate an event so recent, so intimate and so outrageous, an attack on her own loyalties and sense of deepest belonging? Joseph Dantica was a remarkable man: a Baptist minister, a survivor of cancer, a loyal husband and family man who raised his niece Edwidge Danticat to the age of 12, when she joined her parents in Brooklyn. When [he] fled Haiti in 2004 after a battle between U.N. peacekeepers and gang members destroyed his church and put his life in jeopardy, he was 81. He intended to return and rebuild his church as soon as the fighting stopped. But to the Department of Homeland Security officers who examined him, his plea for asylum meant he was simply another unlucky Haitian determined to slip through their fingers. [Their] refusal of treatment cost him his life: he died in a Florida hospital, probably in shackles, the following day. The story of Joseph Dantica could be, perhaps will be, told in many forms: as a popular ballad; as Greek tragedy; as agitprop theater; as a bureaucratic nightmare worthy of Kafka. But Edwidge Danticat, true to her calling, has resisted any of these responses. In telling her family’s story she giv[es] us a memoir whose cleareyed prose and unflinching adherence to the facts conceal an astringent undercurrent of melancholy, a mixture of homesickness and homelessness. Haunting the book throughout is a fear of missed chances, long-overdue payoffs and family secrets withering on the vine: a familiar anxiety when one generation passes to another too quickly.” —Jess Row, The New York Times Book Review (cover) (September 9, 2007)
“There is no guarantee that a distinguished fiction writer will produce a successful memoir. Yet Edwidge Danticat—the author of three elegant and complex novels—brings lucid storytelling to Brother, I’m Dying. . . . An intricate account that expands outward to include the history of U.S. involvement in Haiti since 1915; violence and fear during the Duvalier reign and beyond; and post-Sept. 11 immigration policy. Emotional clarity is abundant.” —Donna Rifkind, Los Angeles Times Book Review (September 9, 2007)
“A model of grace and restraint.” —Anna Mundow, The Boston Globe (September 9, 2007)
“Poignant . . . . Eminently readable and emotionally nuanced. The two men it features–Edwidge’s father, Miracin, and his older brother, Joseph–become our own father and uncle. Brother, I’m Dying offers a glimpse into the sources of Danticat’s vivid imagery and characters. We see dresses sewn big to grow into. We find a righteous pastor who confronts the Tonton Macoutes, the terror of voicelessness, aged matriarchs with tales to tell, and the casual abuse of absolute power. The ancient Greeks believed that in death, gods and heroes were raised to the sky as constellations. In contrast, the children of slaves from Brazil to Haiti were taught that every time a brave soul died, a star fell. Toward the end of her memoir, Danticat reminds us of this, one of the great motifs in the folklore of the African Diaspora. When the next meteor shower rains down, only the heartless would begrudge Joseph and Miracin two of those brilliant flashes.” —Richard Thompson, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (September 7, 2007)
“At a time when most American memoirs practically groan under the weight of self-importance and bad-memory baggage, Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying provides a formidable example of an author who knows how to write about her family without hogging the stage. . . . Brother conjures up vibrant episodes in the Danticat family history in a tone that’s both clear-eyed and mythical. . . . Interspersed with these stories of near wonder are scenes of political turmoil in Haiti, which push the book toward its haunting moral core. In October 2004, after gangs threaten to kill Joseph, the preacher flees to Miami, where he’s detained by immigration officials. After a series of seizurelike attacks that go untreated, he dies. . . . Danticat re-creates her uncle’s final hours in masterful detail . . . By the end, it’s impossible not to feel outrage at the bureaucracies that denied Joseph his humanity and his life.” —Michael Miller, Time Out New York (September 6-12, 2007)
“Deeply affecting . . . Danticat brings the lyric language and emotional clarity of her remarkable novel The Dew Breaker to bear on the story of her own family, a story which, like so much of her fiction, embodies the painful legacy of Haiti’s violent history, demonstrating the myriad ways in which the public and the private, the political and the personal, intersect in the lives of that country’s citizens and exiles. Ms. Danticat not only creates an indelible portrait of her two fathers, her dad and her uncle, but in telling their stories, she gives the reader an intimate sense of the personal consequences of the Haitian diaspora: its impact on parents and children, brothers and sisters, those who stay and those who leave to begin a new life abroad. She has written a fierce, haunting book about exile and loss and family love, and how that love can survive distance and separation, loss and abandonment and somehow endure, undented and robust. . . . Moving.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times (September 4, 2007)
“Edwidge Danticat wastes no time. She learned she was pregnant the same day she was told her father was dying, as she writes in the first line of her eloquent, intense memoir. Her life, her father’s and that of the uncle who raised her until she was 12 are intertwined. Past and present, personal and political entangle with a vengeance in the lives of ordinary people who become immigrants . . . The tone, as always with Danticat’s fiction and nonfiction, is unsentimental. And the book is tightly structured, the narrative taut.” —Betsy Willeford, The Miami Herald (September 2, 2007)
Family can be inscrutable, a mystery sometimes better solved by describing events than by analyzing motives. Edwidge Danticat describes her family history in Brother, I’m Dying with a dispassion that only adds to the drama of childhood memories and snippets of family lore learned ‘out of sequence and in fragments.’ . . . The brutalities of war and immigration—and the grace of strong family ties—are scorched into Danticat’s intimate and aching story.” —Deanna Larson, Bookpage (September 2007)
“Haitian-born American writer Danticat is at her best—fearless, persuasive, captivating—in recounting her family history. . . . In a world where the concept of distinct nationalities is fast giving way to the preeminence of diasporas, this is a tale for all, both uplifting and tragic. Most readers will likely recognize a kindred spirit or something familiar in this family account, brought so vividly to life and captured for all ages by a fine writer. Recommended.” —Edward K. Owusu-Ansah, Library Journal (Editor’s Pick, starred review) (August 2007)
“This past June a tally from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency showed that 62 immigrants have died in its custody since 2004. . . . One was Joseph, the frail, 81-year-old uncle of the brilliant novelist Edwidge Danticat, who tells Joseph’s story, and her own, in this unforgettable memoir. . . . Brother, I’m Dying is the story of a family torn between two countries and of a daughter’s love split between two men: one a worked-to-the-bone taxi driver in Brooklyn, the other a pastor coping with revolution. Danticat brings the risk and daring of contemporary immigrant experience vividly alive.” —Kate Manning, More (September 2007)
“In a single day in 2004, Danticat learns that she’s pregnant and that her father, André, is dying—a stirring constellation of events that frames this Haitian immigrant family’s story, rife with premature departures and painful silences. When Danticat was two, André left Haiti for the U.S., and her mother followed when Danticat was four. The author and her brother could not join their parents for eight years, during which André’s brother Joseph raised them. . . . In the end, as Danticat prepares to lose her ailing father and give birth to her daughter, Joseph is threatened by a volatile sociopolitical clash and forced to leave Haiti. He’s then detained by U.S. Customs and neglected for days. He unexpectedly dies a prisoner while loved ones await news of his release. Poignant and never sentimental, this elegant memoir recalls how a family adapted and reorganized itself over and over, enduring and succeeding to remain kindred in spite of living apart.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) (July 16, 2007)
“An unforgettable work by a truly great artist at the height of her powers, rich with the history of Haiti then and now, and constantly informed by a folk wisdom as old as humankind. Never has Edwidge Danticat’s simple lucidity and extraordinary equilibrium served her better than here. In a work full of anger, but next to no bitterness, she traces a singular Haitian tragedy. The superhuman control of her writing compresses all the fury of this narrative to the hardened brilliance of a diamond.” —Madison Smartt Bell
“Exceptionally gripping . . . [A] deeply felt memoir rife with historical drama . . . [Brother, I’m Dying] tells the dramatically twinned stories of Danticat’s father’s and uncle’s hardworking, tragedy-haunted lives. [The book] starts off momentously in 2004, when the author discovers she’s pregnant on the same day she learns that her father has end-stage pulmonary fibrosis. From there, Danticat angles backward in time, sketching a family history marked by long absence and a backdrop of political unrest. While her parents tried to make a better life in Brooklyn, the author was raised in Haiti by her uncle Joseph; she didn’t join her mother and father until she was 12. . . . Danticat alternates between her uncle’s and her father’s stories, using her childhood experiences as a means to vividly portray two honorable, duty-bound men who wanted nothing more than to lead respectable lives in a peaceful and prosperous Haiti. The country’s troubled history is always smoldering in the background, and there’s an explosion of tears waiting behind almost every sentence. But Danticat avoids sentimentality in smoothly honed prose that is nonetheless redolent with emotion.” —Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2007)
“Memoir is a witness which swears to tell the truth. Memoir is the magic of love and remembrance. Magic is Edwidge Danticat who taps on her keyboard to the rhythm of angels.” —Nikki Giovanni
“Wonderful. Danticat’s moving tale of two remarkable brothers—her own father and her beloved Uncle Joseph, separated for thirty years–is as compelling and richly told as her fiction. Politically charged and sadly unforgettable, their stories will lodge themselves in your heart.” —Cristina García
“Brother, I’m Dying will break your heart but put it back together through the healing magic of Edwidge Danticat’s clear, compassionate, beautiful writing. She draws us into her family, to share its joys and also its journey to the heart of darkness. But she also shows us the way back: we become brothers and sisters in an even larger family, the human family, bonded together by the power of her storytelling. This is what the best writing can do. And why we need storytellers like her more than ever.” —Julia Alvarez