Breath, Eyes, Memory

( 55 )

Overview

At an astonishingly young age, Edwidge Danticat has become one of our most celebrated new novelists, a writer who evokes the wonder, terror, and heartache of her native Haiti—and the enduring strength of Haiti's women—with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people's suffering and courage.

At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a ...
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Overview

At an astonishingly young age, Edwidge Danticat has become one of our most celebrated new novelists, a writer who evokes the wonder, terror, and heartache of her native Haiti—and the enduring strength of Haiti's women—with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people's suffering and courage.

At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti—to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.

"I love you, " the stranger announces. "More than the sky loves its stars." And her mother does, but there are memories from Haiti secreted away that torture both young Sophie and her estranged insomniac mother. This award-winning 24-year-old Haitian American's evocative novel explores the bonds joining four generations of women.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A distinctive new voice with a sensitive insight into Haitian culture distinguishes this graceful debut novel about a young girl's coming of age under difficult circumstances. ``I come from a place where breath, eyes and memory are one, a place where you carry your past like the hair on your head,'' says narrator Sophie Caco, ruminating on the chains of duty and love that bind the courageous women in her family. The burden of being a woman in Haiti, where purity and chastity are a matter of family honor, and where ``nightmares are passed on through generations like heirlooms,'' is Danticat's theme. Born after her mother Martine was raped, Sophie is raised by her Tante Atie in a small town in Haiti. At 12 she joins Martine in New York, while Atie returns to her native village to care for indomitable Grandmother Ife. Neither Sophie nor Martine can escape the weight of the past, resulting in a pattern of insomnia, bulimia, sexual trauma and mental anguish that afflicts both of them and leads inexorably to tragedy. Though her tale is permeated with a haunting sadness, Danticat also imbues it with color and magic, beautifully evoking the pace and character of Creole life, the feel of both village and farm communities, where the omnipresent Tontons Macoute mean daily terror, where voudon rituals and superstitions still dominate even as illiterate inhabitants utilize such 20th-century conveniences as cassettes to correspond with emigres in America. In simple, lyrical prose enriched by an elegiac tone and piquant observations, she makes Sophie's confusion and guilt, her difficult assimilation into American culture and her eventual emotional liberation palpably clear.
Library Journal
Told from the viewpoint of a young Haitian American, this novel concentrates on relationships between generations of women, both in Haiti and in the United States. Sophie's mother leaves Haiti to find work in the States, and Sopie soon follows, growing up troubled in New York until she exorcises her demons in a Santeria ceremony. The book's strength lies in the rarity of its Haitian viewpoint, a voice seldom heard in American literature. However, the writing itself falls a bit flat. The characters and plot are interesting, but the narrative style doesn't evoke the emotional response that would seem appropriate to the action. Danticat is herself a 24-year-old Haitian American who, like the novel's narrator, came to the United States in her early teens to join her family. Her first novel shows promise of better works in the future. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-- Marie F. Jones, Muskingum Coll. Lib., New Concord, Ohio
Washington Post Book World
A novel that rewards the reader again and again with small but exquisite and unforgettable epiphanies.
From the Publisher
Praise for Breath, Eyes, Memory

Oprah Book Club Selection

"Vibrant, magic . . . wraps readers into the haunting life of a young Haitian girl."—Boston Globe

"Danticat's calm clarity of vision takes on the resonance of folk art. . . . Extraordinarily successful."—The New York Times Book Review

"A novel that rewards the reader again and again with small but exquisite and unforgettable epiphanies."—Washington Post Book World

"A distinctive new voice with a sensitive insight into Haitian culture distinguishes this graceful debut novel . . . In simple, lyrical prose enriched by an elegiac tone and piquant observations, [Danticat] makes Sophie's confusion and guilt, her difficult assimilation into American culture and her eventual emotional liberation palpably clear."—Publishers Weekly

"Danticat has created a stirring tale of life in two worlds: the spirit-rich land of her ancestry, whose painful themes work their way through lives across generational lines, and her adopted country, the United States, where a young immigrant girl must negotiate cold, often hostile terrain, even as she spars with painful demons of her past."—Emerge 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375705045
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/1998
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 83,314
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Edwidge Danticat was nominated for the National Book Award in 1995 for her story collection, Krik? Krak! Her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, was published to acclaim when she was twenty-five.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

A flattened and drying daffodil was dangling off the little card that I had made my aunt Atie for Mother's Day. I pressed my palm over the flower and squashed it against the plain beige cardboard. When I turned the corner near the house, I saw her sitting in an old rocker in the yard, staring at a group of children crushing dried yellow leaves into the ground. The leaves had been left in the sun to dry. They would be burned that night at the konbit potluck dinner.

I put the card back in my pocket before I got to the yard. When Tante Atie saw me, she raised the piece of white cloth she was embroidering and waved it at me. When I stood in front of her, she opened her arms just wide enough for my body to fit into them.

"How was school?" she asked, with a big smile.

She bent down and kissed my forehead, then pulled me down onto her lap.

"School was all right," I said. "I like everything but those reading classes they let parents come to in the afternoon. Everybody's parents come except you. I never have anyone to read with, so Monsieur Augustin always pairs me off with an old lady who wants to learn her letters, but does not have children at the school."

"I do not want a pack of children teaching me how to read," she said. "The young should learn from the old. Not the other way. Besides, I have to rest my back when you have your class. I have work."

A blush of embarrassment rose to her brown cheeks.

"At one time, I would have given anything to be in school. But not at my age. My time is gone. Cooking and cleaning, looking after others, that's my school now. That schoolhouse is your school. Cutting cane was the only thing for a young one to do when I was your age. That is why I never want to hear you complain about your school." She adjusted a pink head rag wrapped tightly around her head and dashed off a quick smile revealing two missing side teeth. "As long as you do not have to work in the fields, it does not matter that I will never learn to read that ragged old Bible under my pillow."

Whenever she was sad, Tante Atie would talk about the sugar cane fields, where she and my mother practically lived when they were children. They saw people die there from sunstroke every day. Tante Atie said that, one day while they were all working together, her father-my grandfather-stopped to wipe his forehead, leaned forward, and died. My grandmother took the body in her arms and tried to scream the life back into it. They all kept screaming and hollering, as my grandmother's tears bathed the corpse's face. Nothing would bring my grandfather back.

The bélét man was coming up the road. He was tall and yellow like an amber roach. The children across the road lined up by the fence to watch him, clutching one another as he whistled and strolled past them.

This albino, whose name was Chabin, was the biggest lottery agent in the village. He was thought to have certain gifts that had nothing to do with the lottery, but which Tante Atie believed put the spirits on his side. For example, if anyone was chasing him, he could turn into a snake with one flip of his tongue. Sometimes, he could see the future by looking into your eyes, unless you closed your soul to him by thinking of a religious song and prayer while in his presence.

I could tell that Tante Atie was thinking of one of her favorite verses as he approached. Death is the shepherd of man and in the final dawn, good will be the master of evil.

"Honneur, mes belles, Atie, Sophie."

Chabin winked at us from the front gate. He had no eyelashes-or seemed to have none. His eyebrows were tawny and fine like corn silk, but he had a thick head of dirty red hair.

"How are you today?" he asked.

"Today, we are fine," Tante Atie said. "We do not know about tomorrow."

"Ki nimñro today?" he asked. "What numbers you playing?"

"Today, we play my sister Martine's age," Tante Atie said. "Sophie's mother's age. Thirty-one. Perhaps it will bring me luck."

"Thirty-one will cost you fifty cents," he said.

Tante Atie reached into her bra and pulled out one gourde.

"We will play the number twice," she said.

Even though Tante Atie played faithfully, she had never won at the bélét. Not even a small amount, not even once.

She said the lottery was like love. Providence was not with her, but she was patient.

The albino wrote us a receipt with the numbers and the amount Tante Atie had given him.

The children cringed behind the gate as he went on his way. Tante Atie raised her receipt towards the sun to see it better.

"There, he wrote your name," I said pointing to the letters, "and there, he wrote the number thirty-one."

She ran her fingers over the numbers as though they were quilted on the paper.

"Would it not be wonderful to read?" I said for what must have been the hundredth time.

"I tell you, my time is passed. School is not for people my age.

The children across the street were piling up the leaves in Madame Augustin's yard. The bigger ones waited on line as the smaller ones dropped onto the pile, bouncing to their feet, shrieking and laughing. They called one another's names: Foi, Hope, Faith, Esprance, Beloved, God-Given, My Joy, First Born, Last Born, Aséfi, Enough-Girls, Enough-Boys, Deliverance, Small Misery, Big Misery, No Misery. Names as bright and colorful as the giant poincianas in Madame Augustin's garden.

They grabbed one another and fell to the ground, rejoicing as though they had flown past the towering flame trees that shielded the yard from the hot Haitian sun.

"You think these children would be kind to their mothers and clean up those leaves," Tante Atie said. "Instead, they are making a bigger mess."

"They should know better," I said, secretly wishing that I too could swim in their sea of dry leaves.

Tante Atie threw her arms around me and squeezed me so hard that the lemon-scented perfume, which she dabbed across her chest each morning, began to tickle my nose.

"Sunday is Mother's Day, non?" she said, loudly sucking her teeth. "The young ones, they should show their mothers they want to help them. What you see in your children today, it tells you about what they will do for you when you are close to the grave."

I appreciated Tante Atie, but maybe I did not show it enough. Maybe she wanted to be a real mother, have a real daughter to wear matching clothes with, hold hands and learn to read with.

"Mother's Day will make you sad, won't it, Tante Atie?"

"Why do you say that?" she asked.

"You look like someone who is going to be sad."

"You were always wise beyond your years, just like your mother."

She gently held my waist as I climbed down from her lap. Then she cupped her face in both palms, her elbows digging into the pleats of her pink skirt.

I was going to sneak the card under her pillow Saturday night so that she would find it as she was making the bed on Sunday morning. But the way her face drooped into her palms made me want to give it to her right then.

I dug into my pocket, and handed it to her. Inside was a poem that I had written for her.

She took the card from my hand. The flower nearly fell off. She pressed the tape against the short stem, forced the baby daffodil back in its place, and handed the card back to me. She did not even look inside.

"Not this year," she said.

"Why not this year?"

"Sophie, it is not mine. It is your mother's. We must send it to your mother."

I only knew my mother from the picture on the night table by Tante Atie's pillow. She waved from inside the frame with a wide grin on her face and a large flower in her hair. She witnessed everything that went on in the bougainvillea, each step, each stumble, each hug and kiss. She saw us when we got up, when we went to sleep, when we laughed, when we got upset at each other. Her expression never changed. Her grin never went away.

I sometimes saw my mother in my dreams. She would chase me through a field of wildflowers as tall as the sky. When she caught me, she would try to squeeze me into the small frame so I could be in the picture with her. I would scream and scream until my voice gave out, then Tante Atie would come and save me from her grasp.

I slipped the card back in my pocket and got up to go inside. Tante Atie lowered her head and covered her face with her hands. Her fingers muffled her voice as she spoke.

"When I am done feeling bad, I will come in and we will find you a very nice envelope for your card. Maybe it will get to your mother after the fact, but she will welcome it because it will come directly from you."

"It is your card," I insisted.

"It is for a mother, your mother." She motioned me away with a wave of her hand. "When it is Aunt's Day, you can make me one."

"Will you let me read it to you?"

"It is not for me to hear, my angel. It is for your mother."

I put the card back in my pocket, plucked out the flower, and dropped it under my shoes.

Across the road, the children were yelling each other's names, inviting passing friends to join them. They sat in a circle and shot the crackling leaves high above their heads. The leaves landed on their faces and clung to their hair. It was almost as though they were caught in a rain of daffodils.

I continued to watch the children as Tante Atie prepared what she was bringing to the potluck. She put the last touches on a large tray of sweet potato pudding that filled the whole house with its molasses scent.

As soon as the sun set, lamps were lit all over our quarter. The smaller children sat playing marbles near whatever light they could find. The older boys huddled in small groups near the school yard fence as they chatted over their books. The girls formed circles around their grandmothers' feet, learning to sew.

Tante Atie had promised that in another year or so she would teach me how to sew.

"You should not stare," she said as we passed a near-sighted old woman whispering mystical secrets of needle and thread to a little girl. The girl was squinting as her eyes dashed back and forth to keep up with the movements of her grandmother's old fingers.

"Can I start sewing soon?" I asked Tante Atie.

"Soon as I have a little time," she said.

She put her hand on my shoulder and bent down to kiss my cheek.

"Is something troubling you?" I asked.

"Don't let my troubles upset you," she said.

"When I made the card, I thought it would make you happy. I did not mean to make you sad."

"You have never done anything to make me sad," she said. "That is why this whole thing is going to be so hard."

A cool evening breeze circled the dust around our feet.

"You should put on your blouse with the long sleeves," she said. "So you don't catch cold."

I wanted to ask her what was going to be so hard, but she pressed her finger over my lips and pointed towards the house.

She said "Go" and so I went.

One by one the men began to file out of their houses. Some carried plantains, others large Negro yams, which made your body itch if you touched them raw. There were no men in Tante Atie's and my house so we carried the food ourselves to the yard where the children had been playing.

The women entered the yard with tins of steaming ginger tea and baskets of cassava bread. Tante Atie and I sat near the gate, she behind the women and me behind the girls.

Monsieur Augustin stacked some twigs with a rusty pitchfork and dropped his ripe plantains and husked corn on the pile. He lit a long match and dropped it on the top of the heap. The flame spread from twig to twig, until they all blended into a large smoky fire.

Monsieur Augustin's wife began to pass around large cups of ginger tea. The men broke down into small groups and strolled down the garden path, smoking their pipes. Old tantes-aunties-and grandmothers swayed cooing babies on their laps. The teenage boys and girls drifted to dark corners, hidden by the shadows of rustling banana leaves.

Tante Atie said that the way these potlucks started was really a long time ago in the hills. Back then, a whole village would get together and clear a field for planting. The group would take turns clearing each person's land, until all the land in the village was cleared and planted. The women would cook large amounts of food while the men worked. Then at sunset, when the work was done, everyone would gather together and enjoy a feast of eating, dancing, and laughter.

Here in Croix-des-Rosets, most of the people were city workers who labored in baseball or clothing factories and lived in small cramped houses to support their families back in the provinces. Tante Atie said that we were lucky to live in a house as big as ours, with a living room to receive our guests, plus a room for the two of us to sleep in. Tante Atie said that only people living on New York money or people with professions, like Monsieur Augustin, could afford to live in a house where they did not have to share a yard with a pack of other people. The others had to live in huts, shacks, or one-room houses that, sometimes, they had to build themselves.

In spite of where they might live, this potluck was open to everybody who wanted to come. There was no field to plant, but the workers used their friendships in the factories or their grouping in the common yards as a reason to get together, eat, and celebrate life.

Tante Atie kept looking at Madame Augustin as she passed the tea to each person in the women's circle around us.

"How is Martine?" Madame Augustin handed Tante Atie a cup of steaming tea. Tante Atie's hand jerked and the tea sprinkled the back of Madame Augustin's hand.

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Table of Contents

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Introduction

The questions, discussion topics, author biography, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory. We hope they will bring to life the many themes with which Danticat builds her story of a young Haitian woman's coming to terms with her country, her mother, and her own identity.

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Foreword

1. Edwidge Danticat has said that in Haiti, "Everything is a story. Everything is a metaphor or a proverb." How does the character of grandmother Ifé; personify this tendency? How do some of the proverbs and tales she tells Sophie relate to the events and themes of the novel?

2. As a young girl, Martine's favorite color was daffodil yellow; in middle age she is obsessed with the color red. What significance and associations do these colors have for her? In what way does the change from yellow to red symbolize the change in Martine's own character? Does Danticat use color symbolically elsewhere in the story?

3. Martine once hoped to be a doctor; later, she transfers her ambitions to Sophie. "If you make something of yourself in life," she says to her daughter, "we will all succeed. You can raise our heads" (p. 44). Why does Sophie consciously reject her mother's ideal of high achievement? Why does she choose to become a secretary rather than, for instance, a doctor?

4. The character of Atie is perhaps the most complex and mysterious in the novel. Why is Atie so changed when Sophie returns to Haiti? Why does she so resolutely stick to her idea of staying with her mother and doing her "duty," even though Ifé; says, "Atie, she should go. She cannot stay out of duty. The things one does, one should do out of love" (p. 119)? What does "chagrin" mean to Atie? What significance does the act of writing in her notebook take on in her life?

5. Atie says to Sophie, "Your mother and I, when we were children we had no control over anything. Not even this body" (p. 20). How does thisknowledge help Sophie shape her life? In what ways does Sophie take control of her own life as her mother and aunt never were able to?

6. In the graveyard, Atie reminds Sophie to walk straight, since she is in the presence of family. Grandmother Ifé; plans carefully for her death, which she thinks of as a "journey" (p. 195). How does Sophie's grandmother's attitude toward death and the dead, as illustrated in this novel, compare with American ones? How does each culture attempt to foster a sense of wholeness, of continuity, between the generations?

7. Sophie feels that Haitians in America have a bad image as "boat people." Are her efforts to assimilate, to become "American," in any way related to her physical self-loathing ("I hate my body. I am ashamed to show it to anybody, including my husband" [p. 123])? How does her bulimia express such self-loathing?

8. Breath, Eyes, Memory is primarily a story of the relationships between women: mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters. But there are two significant male characters in the novel, Joseph and Marc. Does Danticat depict Joseph and Marc as full, rounded-out characters, or do we see them only through Sophie's slanted point of view? How does Sophie express her ambivalent feelings about both of them? Why is she so angry with Marc after her mother's death? Do you feel that her anger is justified? Is it possible that Sophie's aloofness from both these men stems from her upbringing in an almost exclusively female world, where "men were as mysterious to me as white people" (p. 67)?

9. The Haitian goddess Erzulie is both a goddess of love and the Virgin Mary. What does this tell you about the Haitian culture and its ideas of love and religion? How does this differ from American and European culture?

10. Martine's rape by an unknown man, possibly a Macoute, is the defining event in her life, bringing with it overpowering feelings of fear and self-loathing which she passes on to her daughter. Sophie's therapist even suggests that Martine undergo an exorcism. How does Sophie in her own way succeed in "exorcising" the evil events of the past? "It was up to me to avoid my turn in the fire" (p. 203), she says; how does she achieve this?

11. When Sophie breaks her maidenhead with the pestle, she likens it to "breaking manacles, an act of freedom" (p. 130). What exactly does "freedom" mean to Sophie? Which of her other actions represent bids for freedom and autonomy? What does she accomplish when, at the end of the novel, she beats the stalks of sugar cane? What does the final cry of "Ou libéré;" (p. 233) mean to Sophie? To Atie? Do you feel that Martine in some manner "liberated" herself by committing suicide? Or was her act one of submission?

12. Do you believe that the three women in the sexual phobia group have comparable problems? Is the word "abuse" equally appropriate in each of their cases? How effective is their joint attempt to free themselves from their past? Is Buki's wrecked balloon a pessimistic symbol? Do you believe that the therapist's psychological tools are adequate to deal with the complex, culturally rooted problems of Sophie and Buki?

13. What is the significance of Martine's "Marassas" story in the context of the relationship between Martine and Sophie? Why does Martine tell the story to Sophie as if she is "testing" her? Why is the theme of likeness, of identification between mother and daughter, so important to Martine? Why does Sophie resist it? When she comes to terms with her mother at the end of the novel, is it because she identifies with her mother or because she comes to feel independent of her? Or both? Do you sense that she has fully forgiven Martine for the hurt she has caused her?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Edwidge Danticat has said that in Haiti, "Everything is a story. Everything is a metaphor or a proverb." How does the character of grandmother Ifé; personify this tendency? How do some of the proverbs and tales she tells Sophie relate to the events and themes of the novel?

2. As a young girl, Martine's favorite color was daffodil yellow; in middle age she is obsessed with the color red. What significance and associations do these colors have for her? In what way does the change from yellow to red symbolize the change in Martine's own character? Does Danticat use color symbolically elsewhere in the story?

3. Martine once hoped to be a doctor; later, she transfers her ambitions to Sophie. "If you make something of yourself in life," she says to her daughter, "we will all succeed. You can raise our heads" (p. 44). Why does Sophie consciously reject her mother's ideal of high achievement? Why does she choose to become a secretary rather than, for instance, a doctor?

4. The character of Atie is perhaps the most complex and mysterious in the novel. Why is Atie so changed when Sophie returns to Haiti? Why does she so resolutely stick to her idea of staying with her mother and doing her "duty," even though Ifé; says, "Atie, she should go. She cannot stay out of duty. The things one does, one should do out of love" (p. 119)? What does "chagrin" mean to Atie? What significance does the act of writing in her notebook take on in her life?

5. Atie says to Sophie, "Your mother and I, when we were children we had no control over anything. Not even this body" (p. 20). How does this knowledge help Sophie shape her life? In what ways does Sophie take control of her own life as her mother and aunt never were able to?

6. In the graveyard, Atie reminds Sophie to walk straight, since she is in the presence of family. Grandmother Ifé; plans carefully for her death, which she thinks of as a "journey" (p. 195). How does Sophie's grandmother's attitude toward death and the dead, as illustrated in this novel, compare with American ones? How does each culture attempt to foster a sense of wholeness, of continuity, between the generations?

7. Sophie feels that Haitians in America have a bad image as "boat people." Are her efforts to assimilate, to become "American," in any way related to her physical self-loathing ("I hate my body. I am ashamed to show it to anybody, including my husband" [p. 123])? How does her bulimia express such self-loathing?

8. Breath, Eyes, Memory is primarily a story of the relationships between women: mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters. But there are two significant male characters in the novel, Joseph and Marc. Does Danticat depict Joseph and Marc as full, rounded-out characters, or do we see them only through Sophie's slanted point of view? How does Sophie express her ambivalent feelings about both of them? Why is she so angry with Marc after her mother's death? Do you feel that her anger is justified? Is it possible that Sophie's aloofness from both these men stems from her upbringing in an almost exclusively female world, where "men were as mysterious to me as white people" (p. 67)?

9. The Haitian goddess Erzulie is both a goddess of love and the Virgin Mary. What does this tell you about the Haitian culture and its ideas of love and religion? How does this differ from American and European culture?

10. Martine's rape by an unknown man, possibly a Macoute, is the defining event in her life, bringing with it overpowering feelings of fear and self-loathing which she passes on to her daughter. Sophie's therapist even suggests that Martine undergo an exorcism. How does Sophie in her own way succeed in "exorcising" the evil events of the past? "It was up to me to avoid my turn in the fire" (p. 203), she says; how does she achieve this?

11. When Sophie breaks her maidenhead with the pestle, she likens it to "breaking manacles, an act of freedom" (p. 130). What exactly does "freedom" mean to Sophie? Which of her other actions represent bids for freedom and autonomy? What does she accomplish when, at the end of the novel, she beats the stalks of sugar cane? What does the final cry of "Ou libéré;" (p. 233) mean to Sophie? To Atie? Do you feel that Martine in some manner "liberated" herself by committing suicide? Or was her act one of submission?

12. Do you believe that the three women in the sexual phobia group have comparable problems? Is the word "abuse" equally appropriate in each of their cases? How effective is their joint attempt to free themselves from their past? Is Buki's wrecked balloon a pessimistic symbol? Do you believe that the therapist's psychological tools are adequate to deal with the complex, culturally rooted problems of Sophie and Buki?

13. What is the significance of Martine's "Marassas" story in the context of the relationship between Martine and Sophie? Why does Martine tell the story to Sophie as if she is "testing" her? Why is the theme of likeness, of identification between mother and daughter, so important to Martine? Why does Sophie resist it? When she comes to terms with her mother at the end of the novel, is it because she identifies with her mother or because she comes to feel independent of her? Or both? Do you sense that she has fully forgiven Martine for the hurt she has caused her?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 55 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 16, 2011

    This is a must read!

    As a haitian having lived in Haiti for a few years in Haiti and raised by haitian parents in America, i was able to relate. I saw the character's grandmother as my own in certain instances. The characters were simple but from a complex culture. Also, it always fascinates me on the way we as haitians assimilate in America.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Eye-Opening

    I really enjoyed reading this book. I am a 26 year old Black woman, who (thankfully) has never been exposed to the devastating effects of war or poverty. Danticat skillfully brings her readers in and makes us feel the pains and few joys of Martine and the other characters. I ashamedly didn't want to read a book about Haitian suffering because I just didn't want to hear about it, but after reading this, I realize how selfish and ignorant I was of the culture and the history. There's much to learn from the literature and language of Edwidge Danticat. I look forward to reading more of her pieces.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2013

    Danticat¿s Breath, Eyes, Memory begins in the early 1980¿s and d

    Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory begins in the early 1980’s and during a time of dictatorship rule in Haiti. Sophie lives in a secluded agricultural village with her aunt, Tant Atie. Sophie’s mother, Martine, moved to Brooklyn as a form of escape from when she was raped months before. Her mother has finally sent for her, and against Sophie’s wishes  she is flown to New York where she can reunite with her lost family. Adjusting to life in Brooklyn is not easy for the young immigrant, she encounters language, ethnicity and cultural obstacles.  At the age of eighteen, Sophie still does not know any men except for her mother’s boyfriend until she meets her neighbor Joseph. An altruistic musician, Joseph is everything Sophie could ever hope for in a man and  she falls in love. Martine suspects Sophie of having premarital sex with Joseph and even though Sophie assures her they have not slept together, her mother begins invasive testing of her hymen to make sure she is still a virgin. Disgusted with her body, Sophie becomes ashamed and muddled. She finally comes to the conclusion that the only way to make the tests stop is to make it appear as though she has lost her virginity. She uses a pestle to break her hymen and after the next test her mother kicks her out. Sophie and Joseph end up getting married, moving to Providence and having a baby. The effects of her mother’s tests still linger with Sophie. So much so that without telling Joseph, she leaves with her baby and travels back to Haiti. After some further explanation of her family’s traditions about the tests, she returns home to her husband and tells him everything. Meanwhile, her mother becomes pregnant and it inadvertently resurfaces all of her old terrors of rape. Unable to cope, Martine kills herself by stabbing herself in the stomach. Her body is brought back to Haiti for the funeral and the novel ends with Sophie enraged in a cane field taking out the anger and pain of her and her mother. 
    While treasured by most cultures, this novel makes it obvious that a woman’s abstinence prior to marriage is more than just a tradition, it is a life necessity. We learn that the custom of virginity testing is not unique to their family or just to Haitians. Although Martine and Brigtte Ife stress to Sophie that they did not mean any harm by performing the tests, her nightmares and inability to enjoy sex with her husband persist. The reader learns that even though the mother meant no harm and only wanted the best for their daughter, her tests emotionally scar Sophie into therapy. This recurring theme of harmful sexual experiences also carries over into Martine’s rape and her subsequent suicide. These influential turning points in the novel give a strong meaning to the purity of women and the lifelong effects certain events can have. Rituals and traditions have a place in every culture, but as time passes and people change there needs to be a new line drawn every once in a while.
    Sophie’s passionate journey and her persistence through violence, poverty and discrimination make it impossible not to recommend this book. The content requires a particular level of maturity, so any reader who has not yet entered high school should wait in order to fully understand all of the inner workings of this stunning success. It is clear to me why Breath, Eyes, Memory has been recognized and awarded by so many critics; I truly enjoyed the read and encourage anyone looking for a captivating tale to take a look. bwh

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2012

    A fairly decent read

    Normally a fan of Oprah's book club selections, I trusted her expertise in selecting this book, having never read anything by the author before. The storyline was interesting and the scenes depicting the Haitian culture were nice. However, the story line could have been better developed,and quite frankly it left me wanting more. The development of the main characters took place much too quickly, and left me having to figure things out or make my own assumptions. There were also quite a bit of grammatical errors in the e-book, that were just too frequent to not notice. Despite this, all in all it was an ok read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 15, 2011

    Loved+it+%21%21%21%21%21%21%21%21%21%21%21%21%21%21

    Cant+wait+to+read+more+from+this+author

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2005

    Breath Taking

    Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat is a very moving book. Reading this book and being a Latin-American has given me the opportunity to learn and embrace some of Haitian culture. 'I spent the whole week with my ear pressed against the wall, listening to him rehearse. He rehearsed day and hight, sometimes twelve to ten hours without stoping'(pg.71). I love the fact that the author kept it real. Its NOT a story of too little or too much detail, it's right on point. The main character Sophie Caco is just like many teenagers now in days, and I don't blame her for taking the actions that she did. Edwidge was able to bring out the truth in life: life isn't always perfect. I am looking forward to reading more books by this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2005

    amazing book

    Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a Haitian woman? Well, this book; which was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club, is just what you¿re looking for. The plot follows four generations of women through the eyes of Sophie Caco. She is torn between a mother who she has never met and the aunt who raised her. When Sophie is sent to America to meet her mother, she finds that her mother is tramatized from a rape that happened years before. She tries to help her mother as much as she can, but she cannot do much. After Sophie has grown up and has her own family, she realizes that her mother is a lot worse than she ever thought. Read this book and find out if Sophie can help her mother in time or not. This award winning author captures the hearts of many as you follow the struggles and victories of a Haitian heritage. I highly recommend this book. I thought this book was very appealing and out of the ordinary. You feel as if you know the characters personally as soon as you start reading. Danticat captures your attention and doesn¿t let it go until the end of the book. She tells a story in a fascinating way that I¿m sure will be a favorite of many women through out the world. The Sunday Times states ¿Stuffed with folk wisdom and seasoned with a sprinkling of urban angst, Breath, Eyes, Memory offers a brief thumbnail sketch of life in the Haitian diaspora, as well as a vivid portrayal of rural Haiti¿It offers hope through its vision of a female solidarity which transcends place and time.¿

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2014

    Reader

    Beautifully written Dandicat leads the reader into the world of the Haitian woman. Connecting all women of color through the trials and tribulation that is endured. This is an educational, and moving read. Once you start reading you won't want to put this book down. Enjoy!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2012

    Love thisauthor

    In all her books she gives a glimpsr of haiti and immigrant life. Complex is the best word to describe her characters.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2010

    i would recomend this book because it is so mind boggaling to hear someones story and as you read you get more and more interested in what happens next.

    Breath, Eyes, Memory is a book of Martin's fears that are frequently with her in every corner of her life because of her daughter. Sophie can not find a way to help her with her problems so she meets a guy named Joseph and she believes he'll be there for her But instead her life worsens. this book is a overlap of her life events and she feels as if it is never going to end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2008

    well done

    an interesting account of how expectant -for lack of a better word- parents can be ..loved it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2005

    A Student From New Town High School

    Wow!! I was very compelled by the story that this new author is portraying. She goes places that no other author has ever went before. She gives you deep feeling and she shows the hard life that one must face inorder to leave your hometown, and to get out of the life that you where born into. I really liked the union that the mothers and daughters display, and how they overcame the obstacles that had separated them. And, it was a good thing because not soon after that the mother died, and I feel that if Sophie didn't rekindle that personal, close, mother-daughter relationship, she would have regreted it for the rest of her life and it would have affected her relationship with her daughter. Finally, even though the ending was sad and remorseful, it showed us that we all go through deaths and trials. And in the end,'you will know how to give an answer to the one that is calling you.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2005

    Traditional

    Breath Eyes Memory is a novel written by Edwidge Danticat. The story is about a young girl Sophie Caco, who grows up to be a women while she was surrounded by the Haitian culture. The story begins with Sophie who was about age six living with her aunt Atie in Haiti. Sophie¿s mother, Martine, leaves Sophie in Haiti to live with her aunt because she is trying to recover from her problems. At age twelve, Sophie¿s mother sends for her to come live with her in New York. However Sophie refuse to go because her mothers made her do a traditional virginity test. When Sophie arrives in New York, Martine explains her mother used to test her too and so did many other mothers. But as a result Martine was raped by a stranger leading to Sophie¿s birth. When Sophie was 18 years she fell in love with Joseph an older man who lives next door to her mother. Joseph was a musician whom Martine did not approved of. As a result Sophie was not able to forget the fact that her mother made her id the testing and every time she sleeps with her husband she would tend to remember the testing. Sophie tried to escape her pain by visiting her grandma and her aunt in Haiti leaving her mom and Joseph worried in New York. Sophie mother, Martine decided to go to Haiti to bring Sophie home. Sophie and Martine begin to work on their mother-daughter relationship and struggles they have faced throughout their lives. The story had a tragic ending. The question now is did Sophie learns to accept the relationship with mother?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2005

    Two thumbs up

    Breath Eyes Memory is a powerful and compeling novel. It provides a perspective on life that may be unfarmiliar to people in privilaged societies.It is the story of a girl's painful journey from Haitian girlhood into womanhood in New York City.The growth of the character, Sophie travels along smoothly, and at the end we the readers finally connect to the characters.The journey Sophie takes is a rough one with a lot of ups and downs that affects the rest of her life. She learns that life can be cruel and harsh but that only makes her stronger. As she moves on,she never forgets her roots and always carries her past with her. The novel also reveals that the bond between a mother and daughter is very strong. Edwidge Danticat captures her readers with this emotional story with a great lesson to be learned about life, family and the history that comes with it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2005

    BANGIN!!!!!!!!!

    This book was off the chains i love this book. it was sad but good at the same time. i love this book cause it takes place in my native land HAITI!!!!! holla haiti is the best. Edwidge is throwin it up for her country

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2004

    off da hook

    this book is the best. this girl is talented and the only author I know who is able to capture the true essense of a typical haitian girl. i have nothing but praise for her work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2004

    Engaging and Guessing

    Edwidge Danticat really captures the traditions and her memories in Haiti when she wrote Breath, Eyes, Memory. This book is written about a young girl named Sophie Caco who had lived with her aunt in Haiti for as long as she could remember. At twelve she was reunited with her mother in New York, where she was sent to live. She went through several changes and uncovered many secrets about her past and her families past. Sophie and her mother fought hundreds of inside and outside battles that they cannot explain and no doctors could help. It seemed like the only resolution to their problem was to die; but would that end their problems, or would their demons follow them into their past lives? This book was an easy read; it kept me engaged and kept me guessing what was going to happen next. I don¿t think I would read this book again but I would read some of Danticat¿s other books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2004

    Good book

    I give this book 3 stars...it was interesting to read but it didn't have enough suspense. I do plan to read some of her other books, though.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2003

    that book reinforces stereotype about Haitian

    In this analyze I make sure to make the difference between violence and gender discrimination in the Haitian society as a whole and the tests practices as a phenomenon of the Croix-des-Rosets¿ tradition. As Haitian, this is the first time that I ever heard talking about such practices in my country. But when I talked to people in my community only the elders know about such practices. They told me that this practice did really exist but in remote area of the Haitian peasantry. The necessity for a man to have a virgin girl as wife when they get married was only a tradition that some peasant communities have kept for a long time but that is not anymore an issue. After the publication of this book, many Haitian women living in America have been protested because the author did not insist on the fact that the tests are not an aberrant practice of the Haitian society but the tradition of some localities. We don¿t find ¿crime of honor¿ in all Muslim societies, but some of them do have it. The author does not emphasize on how the US society has influence her life and change her view of the Haitian society. The only aspect that shows this difference is the fact that she left her mom¿s household to marry a man as old as her own mother. She jumps from one period of her life to another one but leave a lot questions to ask of what she has been doing in the while. She never explains if she did finish with college, had a job or stay at home, the specific period that this story happened. With such information the reader would have a better understanding of the book in relation to space and time. In term of historical value the author made a non-pardonable mistake. She did mention that the day she left the country was on the same day that they were changing the airport¿s name (p. 33). This fact happened after the dismantlement of the paramilitary knows as the ¿tonton Macoutes¿, so when she went back in Haiti both times; there were not anymore Tonton Macoutes but another paramilitary. And the differences between those two groups are quiet important in relation to time and space. If there were really the famous tonton macoutes she would never forget to mention their famous heavy blue dress. I choose this book because I knew that it was written by one of my people and expect to see a Haitian struggle between two cultures. Both what I discover was nothing else than a degrading image of my culture that really shock me and that will help the stereotype of Haitian in US society. I¿m not trying to refuse to acknowledge the fact that in my culture, women do in general have a subordinate position. But the conditions of women have changed a lot. In 1990, we had our first female president. We have many senators and deputies that are female. We have a ministry for women¿s conditions. The Catholic Church has helped a lot to balance parity between men and women. This thing of testing is not fundamental to the entire Haitian society but for some localities

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2003

    Other Countries

    Danticat writes about young Sophie¿s childhood and development in Haiti. Reading the story of her growth and development gives the reader a view of life and you hopefully begin to appreciate where you are in life. In addition, through Sophie¿s encounters with others, the audience finds out about other cultures in the world. It¿s quite a page-turner and a marvelous beach read because it fits in your beach bag extremely easy.

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