In her reading at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Edwidge Danticat said, "This isn't so much of a me-moir as it is an us-moir." Smattering of laughter.
True though, this book isn't so much about her as it is about her family, her father and uncle. It's written in her usual, beautiful prose, but sometimes I almost feel like she's stepping back a little, not to get too close to the material.
There are heartbreaking moments, of when her mother leaves her and her brother behind to go to America, the way she wraps her arms around her mom's legs and has to be pried away. Of when they finally see them years later, and her little brother hides his face in the folds of his mother's skirt. When they finally go to America when she's much older, and her new little brother who she's only met once as an infant, runs up to her and hugs her. These moments are so beautiful and sweet and full of emotion... the kind of memories that stay with a person and are part of what makes them, them.
The relationships and histories of her family that she explores are intriguing and wonderful. They also paint this clear backdrop of a country in constant turmoil, unchanged even as recent as 2004, when her uncle flees Haiti in search of political asylum. He dies a few days later as he is held by immigration (I'm not giving anything away, this is all in the jacket flap).
This last section of the book, as her father is dying of a pulmonary disease and she's pregnant with her baby and her uncle is being unfairly detained... it breaks my heart!! The unfairness of it! Why! Bureaucracy? It makes no sense! I felt so much rage and anger for her, for him, for her entire family...
I couldn't help while reading this memoir, if she hadn't shed a good few tears recalling all of these events. I know I would have.
It's interesting - she probably felt incredibly helpless in the last days of her uncle's life, as she is trying to get him out of custody, unsuccessfully. In the end, she is denied visitation rights while he is in the hospital because he is a "prisoner". [Since when did 81 year old pastors from Haiti with blood pressure problems constitute a threat to America???] He dies alone, without his family by his side, after struggling for days to escape his country, his home. Anyway so this must have been such a heartbreaking experience, to be unable to do anything for someone you consider your second father. So what does she do? She writes a memoir for him, hoping to expose to the world his story. This reminds me of the power of words. Hopefully, in turn, she gets a measure of peace. She even says at one point early in the book, "I am writing this only because they can't." (pg. 26)
The other part I really like comes towards the end of the book:
"You shouldn't be a part of this," the manager said, pointing to my belly. "You have a life in you. You have no place with the dead."
"But I'm going to the funeral," I said.
What I really wanted to say was that the dead and the new life were already linked, through my blood, through me.
--[pgs. 248-249, Brother, I'm Dying]
It puts everything togther, where she exists in the midst of all of this, as past and present and future (her child) come together, their storylines interweaving.
Memoirs seem to exist to make sense of the chaos of life.
In any case, incredibly moving. Highly recommended.
I think I have more to say, but I'm at work and I'm tired, and I'm also being distracted by this Iranian president denying the existence of homosexuals thing. hee hee hee.