Danticat (The Dew Breaker, 2004, etc.) tells the dramatically twinned stories of her father’s and uncle’s hardworking, tragedy-haunted lives.
This exceptionally gripping memoir 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 absences 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. She depicts Joseph, a pastor in Port-au-Prince, as a quiet, dignified man who suffered as only good men do. A radical laryngectomy in 1978 took away his voice. Years later, fleeing the gangs terrorizing Haiti in the post-Aristide years, he died in an undeservedly ugly fashion, humiliated and denied his medication by the U.S. authorities to whom he applied for asylum. Shifting back and forth in time, Danticat alternates between her uncle’s and her father’s stories. She keeps herself solidly in the background, 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.
Deeply felt memoir rife with historical drama and familial tragedy.