Breath, Eyes, Memory

Danticat, Edwidge. Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1994.

Breath, Eyes, Memory is the  type of story that sucks you in deep. Like tar pit, quicksand deep. From the moment I started reading I didn’t want to put it down. It was the first book I picked up in the morning and the last book I put down at night for three days straight. I stood in line at the grocery store, pumping gas, and waiting in my doctor’s waiting room with Breath, Eyes, Memory in hand.
Edwidge Danticat does an amazing job blending the culture of Haiti with the culture of family with the dynamics of women intertwined. Breath, Eyes, Memory is the story of four generations of Haitian women. Sophie is at the center. As a new mother she is learning from her mother, grandmother and aunt what it means to be protective and watchful of her young daughter while daring to shrug off disturbing traditions that haunt all the women in her family. This is not a story for the faint of heart. While the harsh realities of Haiti’s Tonton Macoute are barely mentioned they are the root of Sophie’s mother’s nightmares. There is murder, cancer, mental illness, bulemia, abuse and even suicide to contend with within the pages of Breath, Eyes, Memory. In the end there is a certain kind of peace that only comes from a letting go.

One of the harder details to discern was Sophie’s age throughout the story. The timeline is a little abstract. She starts out as 12 years old but the reader only learns that after she has turned 18 and says she had been away from Haiti for six years. From there it becomes a little hazy again. Sophie admits it has been two years since she had last seen her mother, but how old she was when she left isn’t entirely clear. By the end of the story one can assume Sophie is 21-22 years old.

Favorite lines: “If I had the power then to shrink myself and slip into the envelope, I would have done it” (p 50), “He looked like the kind o fman who could buy a girl a meal without asking for her bra in return” (p 68), “You do not have to name something to make it yours” (p 136), and probably the most poignant line in the whole entire book, “It was up to me to make sure that my daughter never slept with ghosts, never lived with nightmares, and never had her name burnt in the flames” (203). For what Sophie means by that you will just have to read the book!

Author Fact: Ms. Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince and my birthday is exactly thirteen days later than Ms. Danticat’s.

Book Trivia: Oprah chose Breath, Eyes, Memory for her book club. I wonder just how much that boosted book sales.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “The Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” ( p 55).

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