A torturer-in-hiding examined from multiple angles by family and victims.
In this third novel from Danticat (The Farming of Bones, 1998, etc.), the past has a way of intruding on everyday life no matter how all of the characters try to stop it. Of course, when the past is as horrific as it is here, that should come as no surprise. The title comes from a Haitian term for torturer, the black-hearted Tonton Macoutes who enforced the Duvalier regime (“ ‘They’d also come before dawn, as the dew was settling on the leaves, and they’d take you away’ ”). The particular dew breaker at the heart of this story is an old man when we first meet him, on a trip he’s taking with his artist daughter down to Florida to deliver a sculpture she’d been commissioned to make by a famous Haitian-American actress. Each chapter brings another view of this same man, who escaped his crimes in Haiti to hide out as a barber in Brooklyn, and each is related by different people who knew him—his wife, a lover, one of his victims. The structure, however, isn’t necessarily one of slowly revealed mystery, an approach that could have cheapened the tale’s formidable emotional impact. Even though we learn more and more about the dew breaker as the story progresses—and by the end have been firsthand witnesses to his foul methods—Danticat seems ultimately less interested in him than in those around him, those who speak personally about the suffering he caused. It’s a wise choice, in that there is comparatively little that can be learned from practitioners of evil, whose motives usually come down to simple desires for money or power. Danticat’s voice is that of a seasoned veteran, her pages wise and saddened, struggling on “the pendulum between regret and forgiveness.”
Searing fiction with the lived-in feel of the best memoir.