Building Bridges

Building Bridges

Friday, April 29, 2011

Yuri's & Janet's extensions to novel - Breath, Eyes, Memory

Breath, Eyes, Memory extension

“Mom, do you smell jasmine?”

The red beans in the pot were being simmered, and I was watching the fish in a grill so it wouldn’t get burned. I glanced outside from the kitchen window and I never realized the bright yellow daffodils were blossoming in front of our house until Brigitte mentioned of by my shoulder.

“That’s daffodils, sweetie. They have looked forward to spring to come for long,” Brigitte put her both hands on the counter and stood on her toes to look outside from the window which was still too high for her.

I kept simmering the beans when Brigitte said, “I have a meeting with Rosaline and I will come home before dark,” I felt her excitement of going for some tea with her best friend.

“May I, please?” she asked me for a permission although she already knew my answer was yes.

“Mwen InmĂ© ou, manma.”

She wrapped my shoulders with her thin and long arms and gave me a kiss on my cheek to say bye.

“Be safe, okay?”

Joseph was outside, playing his saxophone in the warm spring sun. His face was glowing with his eyes closed like he was in love with someone. From the big window in the living room, I saw Brigitte kissed Joseph, and she left with smiles.

“I wish I could be her classmate,” Joseph walked in, smiling and shaking his head. “She used to tell me she would marry me when she was this tall,” his saxophone was still hanging from his neck when Joseph was describing Brigitte’s height with his hand.

“You’re jealous that she doesn’t ask you for a date anymore, non?”

Joseph laughed and told me that that wasn’t what he meant, but I knew, he probably did because I sometimes felt the same. Brigitte would, one day, meet someone, marry, leave home and start her new family.

“Brigitte seems to be enjoying her life with her friends, manma,” I sat in front of a picture of my mother holding baby me. Brigitte once asked me about who the woman was kissing her baby’s round cheek in the picture, and I told her about my mother. “Do you miss your mom?” I did miss her a lot, but instead I told her, “Your grandmother is happy now. When you see a butterfly, that may be her who became free.”

“How’s this papaya?” I left the papaya this morning by the picture so she could have some. “I got this from the market yesterday and we already had one last night. It reminded me of Grandme Ife’s house because we had papayas and mangos for breakfast often.” When I tasted it the night before, my mind began to fill up with my old memories of Mary Dame. That’s how sweet and ripe it was.

The sun was going away to hide behind the buildings, and the night was about to catch the sun. The sky was burning its face as if the sun fell in love with the first star and couldn’t hide her blush. Joseph was in the living room, packing his saxophone in a hard case. He wore a black blazer which I ironed this morning, and he slipped his old handbook with a brown leather cover in his right pocket. The handbook was his 43rd birthday gift from Brigitte. Since then, he had treasured it. There is an old picture of baby Brigitte and me, and also a small birthday card for him from both of us.

“Are you leaving now?”

“I have a gig at a bar called Candlelight near the bay. It will be very exciting because there will be other jazz players there playing, and I am ready to explore and get inspired by them tonight.”

Joseph always had many calls from bars as a live music performer. He normally worked four nights a week including weekends.

“I get a ride tonight, and back home too.”

An old dark blue van honked twice in front of our house. Joseph saw it and raised his hand for quick notice. Joseph gave me a kiss on my right cheek, told me he loved me, and would come back home right after his performance before midnight. “Don’t wait for me,” he winked and his smile melted me.

A bumblebee was flying on the daffodils but it left as I appeared in the garden. There were numbers of yellow daffodils, which first started from a small batch of it. The flowers were seemingly eager to live, enjoy spring and their life. I reached one of them and smelled its sweet soft scent.

The wind of spring felt very warm like a mother’s hug, which I missed tons and also never really got before. It’d been almost fourteen years since Joseph and I first moved here in Providence. There used to be two tall pine trees on the other side of the road. Instead, a new concrete side walk was made. Out side of our house, the peach trees were almost as tall as the small white lantern next to the entrance door. I remembered when I first got them. It was 2 weeks before Brigitte was born. Joseph got them from a nursery where we used to drive by on our way to the hospital. The owner closed his nursery a few years ago, and then it became a wholesale furniture store. I didn't really pay attention to the peach trees but I realized how much they grew without any notice.

I was feeling empty inside, not lonely, but having a very relaxing moment in my front yard. A soft wind touched my skin, and I looked up at the sky.

I decided to climb the ladder, which was leaned by wall for a better view. I sat down on top of the roof and held my boney knees.

“Are you looking at the same sunset, manma? It's majestic,” I wished she was here to share the daffodils and the sunset which burned the whole sky. Another wind blew by my neck and I imagined my mother gently whispered near me, oui, I am right here.
I told her everything about what had been happening in my life such as Brigitte and her school, Joseph, our picnic plan for the following weekend, and also the daffodils blossomed which I honestly wanted her to take some as a souvenir.

“Please do not feel anxious about me, manma. Everything is fine here,” I didn't want her to worry about me.

I heard the phone ring inside the house. Probably Joseph, I thought, because he regularly called me when he got to his work place. I stood up as the sky was about to turn navy blue and began sprinkling stars in the sky. My right ankle caught a piece of roof. I lost my balance, and the next instant, I couldn’t disobey the gravity.
Tak tak-tak-tak...I hear a sound of a chopping knife and wooden cutting board, and I also can smell chicken hot pot from somewhere else. It’s too bright to clearly see things around me. Slowly, I feel a wooden floor, a heat of summer, and humid air.

I see someone cooking outside, in a yellow apron and her hair was knotted in the back of her head. The woman notices my stare. She looks young, her skin has gotten silky chocolate brown color, and her cheekbones shine as she gives me a big smile. That's my mother.

I put my small sandals on, and walk toward her.


My mother hugs me. I smell daffodils outside, I feel her soft chest and she squeezes her cheek on my head and says, “I am right here.”
Janet Medrano
Eng 103
8-10:20 a.m.
April 7, 2011
Extension of Breath, Eyes, and Memory

There isn’t a day that passes by that my mother doesn’t cross my mind. I miss her so much; I sometimes wish I could be up in heaven with her so that she and I could be happy. I never let her know how much she meant to me. The best memories I have of her are when she was my best friend. It’s been two years since she committed suicide. I’m still trying to deal with her death.

My daughter Brigitte is three years old now; she is a beautiful child. She now walks and talks. She is the reason why I wake up happy in the mornings. If it weren’t for her I would probably be up in heaven with my mother. I am still going to therapy; it has helped me a lot. Being able to speak to someone about how my mother tested me and the damaged it caused me physically and mentally opened my mind to being able to forgive her for the unhappiness it has brought me.

Joseph and I are no longer together and are divorced. He was unable to be understanding about the physical and mental damage the weekly tests had done to me. He would want to have sex and I would say I wasn’t ready to take that step and he would walk away and go days without speaking to me. One day when returned home from taking Brigitte to the park I heard noises coming from our bedroom so I went upstairs. I caught him in bed with another woman. They both looked at me with a shocked face and I just closed the door and walked away. I should have screamed and attacked both of them but all I could think was whether it was my fault, and why he had cheated on me. Had the trauma of my mother testing me ruined my marriage? I didn’t want to blame it on my mother for she was no longer alive and she was not the one in bed with that woman. Joseph knew what he was doing was wrong; he knew better.

The woman left our house through the back door; I didn’t even see her face. The only image I had of her was her having sex with my husband on our bed. She sickened me but Joseph sickened me more. He knew why I couldn’t enjoy having sex with him. He knew it was because of the testing my mother did on me. He promised me that as my husband he would be understanding and be patient with me; but instead, he committed infidelity.

I got a full-time job at a clinic; while I work Brigitte stays with a babysitter. The trip I took to Haiti before my mother passed away was the reason why I was able to forgive her. My grandmother told me that the women are in charge of making sure their daughters remain pure until they get married or else they would bring shame to the family, I broke down. I now understood why after telling my mother I liked a boy, the testing began. She wanted to bring no more shame to her family. My grandmother didn’t say but I know a part of her wanted to. I got the feeling that because my mother had been raped it had brought shame to my family especially to my grandmother. She was unable to protect her daughter or her purity. My aunt Atie also, in a way, brought some shame to my grandmother. She never married or had any children. The man she loves married a woman who was beautiful and came from a wealthy family. My grandmother was very thankful to Atie for being there for her but she would have been happier if she knew her daughter had married and had children before she died.

A year after my mother’s suicide my grandmother passed away in her sleep; she was finally in heaven resting in peace with her daughter Martine. Atie was the one who called me to tell me the news. I broke down and started crying; how could my beloved grandmother be gone? I had lost my mother, my marriage had failed, and now my grandmother. I decided I would fly to Haiti for my grandmother’s burial. Since Joseph and I were no longer married I informed my job that I would be gone for two weeks. I packed my things and my daughter as well; I bought our tickets and left to Haiti.

Aunt Atie was so happy to see us; she hugged us so tight that Brigitte and I were struggling to breathe, we went inside the house and we caught up; I told Atie what had happened with Joseph and how I was not happy living in the United States. She asked me why I didn’t stay in Haiti and live with her. She was alone now and I did own my part and my mother’s part of my grandmother’s land. She said I could work and she could watch Brigitte for me. We would both be happy again like old times when you were a child. But now instead of me raising you, you will be the one raising your child. Didn’t take me long to make my decision; I decided that since I had nothing to lose in the United States and more to gain in Haiti that I would stay.

It’s been five years since Brigitte and I moved to Haiti. We are both very happy here with Atie. My daughter is now eight years old; seeing her smile and play with her friends outside tells me I made the right decision for both of us. Atie is sick; we don’t know what she has but she is losing her ability to move and do things on her own. She told me last night that when she dies she wants to be buried next to Grandme Ife and her sister Martine. I told her that if that is her wish I will make it come true. A few weeks passed by and Atie kept getting worse. We went to the doctor and found out she had liver cancer and without any treatment her body organs were shutting down. It was too late to start the treatments; a month later she passed away. She was buried next to Grandme Ife and my mother Martine. It’s now just Brigitte and I; we will continue our lives here in Haiti till the day we die.

Nancy's and Carl's book reviews

Nancy Ramos
April 4, 2011
English 103 8:10 – 10:20

Breath, Eyes, and Memory

In the novel, Breath, Eyes, and Memory, by Edwidge Danticat, the book speaks of relationships, heritage and real life events that are traumatic. It tells a story of a twelve-year-old girl named Sophie who leaves her country Haiti and also leaves behind her aunt that she has come to know as her mother. She leaves her to go to New York to be with her biological mother. As the story continues the author, Edwidge Danticat, unfolds her own memories of the sorrow and beauty of Haiti. During the time that Sophie is in America with her mother, her life makes a complete turn and becomes more difficult than it was in Haiti. Sophie discovers that she was an accident; she was a product of rape, and the traumatic event still haunts her mother in her sleep. This will change Sophie’s life forever.

During Sophie’s childhood, she spends her time in Haiti with the care of her aunt not knowing anything about her mother. The only memory that Sophie has of her mother is a picture to prove that she has a mother. The young girl’s aunt and her have a good connection. They are practically mother and daughter themselves ever since Sophie’s birth mother left her.

As the story went on with the two relationships, it filled me with frustration and irritation to know that the birth mother wanted to see her child after twelve years. It irritated and frustrated me because Sophie and her aunt had a strong connection. It was too strong for them to be separated by someone who hadn’t been in Sophie’s life for twelve years. Once a child has a motherly connection with someone, even if they are not the biological mother, they should still be in contact and maintain that relationship.

Martine, the mother, deals with psychological issues because of the rape that occurred to her at a young age in Haiti. She also deals with the testing of her purity by her own mother. Her mother dealt with these issues in her life and it is because of that the relationship between mother and daughter is filled with tension. This affects Sophie because she is torn from her own culture and beliefs. Sophie rips her own hymen so that her mother would think that she is no longer a virgin and the testing would stop. This is a perfect example of how traumatizing testing can be for a young girl. I feel that this is a sense of molestation.

Later on Sophie begins to fall in love with a musician named Joseph. When her mother finds out about the relationship they have behind her mother’s back, the mother doesn’t accept their relationship. Sophie then decides to leave her mother’s home and start a new life with Joseph. Sophie also doubles when she makes love to Joseph like her mother does. To commit to her duties as a wife, Sophie gives birth to her child and decides not to make the same mistakes as her mother did to Sophie. Sophie feels that she shouldn’t incorporate her childhood experiences to her daughter because she knows it would be traumatizing. Sophie wants to raise Bridget, her daughter, a different way than she had been raised. She wants Bridget to know where she came from and to know her culture but not to go through the same hardships that she had endured while she was growing up. Sophie is an exception of parents because usually parents tend to raise their child in the same manner that they had been raised.

This book if full of surprises and it kept my interest on every page. The heartbreaking detail and life that Sophie endures was traumatizing for me I could not imagine living it as Sophie did. It is an inspiring story of culture and identity. I feel that this book opens my eyes to a different view on cultures and the way kids are treated because of their heritage. This book makes me want to learn about other cultures and it makes me want to be more active with everyday life.

Carl Darke
eng 103
Book review: Breath, Eyes, Memory

In the book Breath, Eyes, Memory, we get to follow a young girl named Sophie on her journey from Haiti to New York and her struggle to find herself in a complicated environment. The beginning of the book takes place in Haiti where we meet Sophie when she is twelve years old. She lives a fairly good life with her Aunt Atie and is fortunate enough to be able to go to school. Her mother moved to New York many years ago in search of a better life. The only thing that Sophie has left from her mother is a picture that she keeps next to her bed. One day when Sophie comes home from school her aunt awaits her with shocking news. Her mother has sent for her to come to New York with only a couple days notice. Sophie has to leave her whole life in Haiti behind to go and live with this unknown woman.

In New York Sophie struggles with culture shock and the hazard of taking care of her emotionally disturbed mother. Her mother suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from a rape that impregnated her with Sophie back in Haiti. Her mother’s main priority is to get Sophie a good education and, therefore, she wants Sophie to stay away from boys. When Sophie is eighteen she meets her next-door neighbor, Joseph, an older American jazz musician. They fall in love, and Sophie tries to keep it a secret. Regardless of their attempts, her mother finds out about Joseph and Sophie’s relationship and Sophie has to deal with the negative stigma attached to sex before marriage. It tears Sophie and her mother apart and Sophie decides to leave her mother for a life with Joseph. Sophie and Joseph move to Providence and have a daughter named Brigitte. On the outside it seems that Sophie is living her dream life. However, with scars from the past blocking her love for Joseph and the problems with her mom echoing inside of her, the pressure pushes Sophie toward depression. She tries over and over again to get in touch with her mother but she refuses to talk to her. Her problems overwhelm her and Sophie runs away with her daughter to Haiti.

In Haiti she reunites with her aunt Atie and her Grandmother and she sees a different side of her family and the problems they struggle with that she wasn’t able to understand when she was younger. Her grandmother lets Sophie’s mother know that Sophie is in Haiti, and soon Sophie’s mother returns there. Sophie and her mother reunite but their problems are deeper. They return to New York together, but Sophie’s mother has a big secret that is haunting her. The secret turns out to be more than she could handle and there is nothing Sophie can do about it.

I find the plot of the book to be fascinating because it deals with a problem in our society that I was not aware of before. The main theme is the issue that a group of people becomes voiceless and the book really captures how it is to be a woman with no voice and no future. The book also captures the feeling of the patriarchal society we live in and how women are raised and forced to serve the men in certain ways.

The Author, Edwidge Danticat, is herself a Haitian girl who immigrated to America at the same age as Sophie, and you can tell that the author has experienced the same situation as Sophie because she captures Sophie’s thoughts in a way that made it easy to relate to her situation. This is especially fascinating because I have lived a life free from the problems Sophie is struggling with, but the author gave me an understanding and awareness of the problem some women are dealing with, and I was able to make connections to my own life and the cultural differences I was struggling with when I arrived in America from Sweden eight months ago.

What I learned from reading this book is the importance of love and understanding with the people around us. I have in my past taken a lot of people for granted but the book has given me another perspective of love and the understanding for why people do some things. People can carry scars from the past, be emotionally trapped in their body, and this can cause them to hurt the ones they love.

The book was easy to read and it was never dull, and it was written in a language that was easy to interpret, even for me who learned English as my second language. I truly recommend the book to everyone out there, but especially to young people because it gives you a different perspective on cultural shock.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vanessa's book review

Breathe, Eyes, Memory
By Edwidge Danticat
Reviewed by Vanessa Macayan

In the novel Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, Danticat is a young author who is of Haitian decent. Her fiction novels give her no boundaries which are partially inspired by the childhood stories she was told growing up. Her stories consist of immigration, greater good for humanities, and stands for the voice of others who can’t tell their stories. In other words, in her novels she speaks for the voiceless children, non-educated, and women.

Breathe, Eyes, Memory
is set in the villages in Haiti, and the streets of New York. The story is told by Sophie Caco, a child born of adolescent violence. Sophie has never seen her mother, except pictures because her mother has abandoned her daughter to go to New York. As Sophie faces struggles having to leave her village in Haiti to live in New York, she soon learns that Haiti is about to face some new struggles of its own.

Sophie is one reason why I love this book. She is a young girl who is mature for her age, especially when she takes the responsibility to teach her illiterate aunt to read. She makes the reader understand her true feelings, especially when trying to understand the adults around her. Beyond Sophie’s story of being a child as a result of adolescent violence, there is more that happens in the novel and Sophie tells us.

Sophie’s mother, Martine, has not been there for Sophie as a mother for her first twelve years. Martine’s relationship with her daughter, sister and mom, Ife, was close, and for years she sends them money and cassette tapes with recorded messages. Sophie then finds out that her mother has requested to have Sophie live in New York. The reader is caught in her struggle as she leaves Haiti to live in New York with her mother who is a complete stranger. It just keeps you wanting to turn the pages to see how the relationships will turn out.

The relationship between Atie and Sophie is very loving. Atie has been very motherly to Sophie. However, their bond is also a strong friendship. The bond between the two is very heart warming. It tears you apart when the two are torn apart, and they have to live in two different cultural environments. Also, the relationship between Sophie and her Grandma Ife is very close. Ife is the grandma who teaches you lessons through her stories, like, Eruzlie, and the lark and the very pretty girl. The sad part is how Ife is planning her funeral. She is a strong, healthy grandma, but she thinks her time is coming.

Breathe, Eyes, Memory is filled with lots of fascinating characters like Marc, and Joseph. Marc is a friendly Haitian man who is befriended in the novel by Martine. He is very old fashion man, and has a lot to say about Sophie growing up. For example, he has a lot to say about Sophie and her relationships with men. However, the most important character in the novel besides Sophie is her mother Martine. You know that the story is being told by Sophie because she writes about the confusion created because her mother abandoned her, and her mother daughter relationship with Atie. We soon learn, throughout the novel, the struggles that Martine faces as a young child having a baby, and the torture she still faces from her past now as an adult in New York.

There are many themes to this novel like immigration, adolescent violence, and the voiceless women, and children. However, Sophie doesn’t direct her attention on one theme or even any of the themes directly. It is simply the life of Sophie.

When Sophie is pulled away from her life in Haiti, Haiti faces some dilemma that is related to the historical event, the Haitian Revolution. During the historical era of the Haitian Revolution, 1791-1804, there was a slave rebellion as the slaves tried to run the white colonists off their land of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti. By doing this the slaves were trying to declare independence for the Republic of Haiti. With the intensifying event happening during Sophie’s new life in New York with Martine, Sophie worries about Atie, and Ife’s lives back home.

Even though the story may have taken place years ago, the events of real history get you to think about how the world is today. For example, the racial comments towards a certain ethnicity, the anger to be independent, the distrust and fear of the people around you are shown throughout the story and are relatable to our own lives.
Overall a mother abandoning her baby, and running away from problems to live in New York makes the reader immediately not so fond of Martine’s character. However, if you want to know the truth behind Martine’s story and how it became a life struggle on Sophie growing up to be a young adult, and how the other characters in Breath, Eyes Memory play apart in Sophie’s life you HAVE to read the novel yourself.

Rachel's extension- Breath, Eyes, Memory

Rachel Weinstein
April 5, 2011
English 103
Breathe, Eyes, Memory Continuation

It was hard to return home without thinking about my mother. The plane flight seemed long and never ending. It seemed like it was a dream. I finally arrived home. Marc went home and said if I needed anything I could always call. Joseph was home with Briggite; it felt like forever since I held her. Her soft skin felt comforting and warm against mine. I missed her so much. I sat with Brigitte at the window and looked up at the night sky. It was a cold and silent night without a cloud in the sky. It made me think of my childhood and everything that has happened to make me the person I am today. Joseph made me my favorite meal for dinner. I decided it had been a long day and I needed sleep. Joseph took care of Brigitte and sent me on my way to bed. It took me a while to fall asleep that night. I wanted to know if my mother was trying to kill herself or the child inside her. After thinking for what seemed to be hours I finally drifted off to sleep.

The nightmares stopped when I got back from Haiti. I started to see how the therapy had been helping me. Even things with Joseph were beginning to get better. When he made love to me it was not difficult. I finally felt like things were starting to heal and I was dealing with putting the testing into the past. I got to focus on the connection with him. It seemed that since my mother had passed I was more focused on the future than a past.

I walked up to Joseph and told him I had news. He looked nervous but I assured him it was nothing to worry about. “I’m pregnant”, I said.

“Sophie, really! Wow I am so excited. We will have two children now!” Joseph said with excitement, you could tell he could not be happier. I was excited for Brigitte because she was going to have a sibling. I had to tell Tante Atie and grandmother about the pregnancy so I sent them a cassette. It felt good talking to them. It was like I was there in Haiti talking to them on their front porch. I hadn’t thought about Haiti for a while. I missed it though, the nights with my aunt and grandmother; the comfort they brought me and the memories will always be with me.

My grandmother and Tante Atie were so happy to hear the news. Atie said grandmother is preparing her funeral still and was still taking care of all the details. I could still tell Tante Atie was still upset about Louise leaving. She said she had not heard from her yet and that she misses me a lot.

I noticed I was starting to get larger because of the baby. I had started to become more self conscious about myself again and wanted nothing more than the baby to be healthy and out of me.

The days went by slowly, and my delivery date passed by days ago. I thought the baby was never going to come. It seemed as if it did not want to leave my body. “Joseph when will this baby come?” I nervously asked.

“Sophie, any day. I can feel it, I know it is coming soon” He assured me.
“I hope so. This pregnancy has felt like forever.” I said. I liked to talk to Joseph; he always knew exactly what to say. That night I woke up with a sharp piercing pain in my stomach. It was time. The baby was on its way.

“Ahhh Joseph wake up! Wake up!” I shook him awake. “The baby is coming. I’m going into labor!” Joseph jumped out of bed and went to take care of Brigitte. I walked out to the car and waited for him to come out with Brigitte. The pain was unbearable and it was only getting worse. When we got to the hospital it did not take long for the baby to be delivered. I screamed and endured such pain. The doctor almost had to operate a C section, but thankfully he decided not to.

Jossue was born at 2:13 on Saturday morning. He was 8 pounds 4 ounces, and a beautiful baby boy. I was exhausted after the delivery and only wanted to hold my son. He looked just like Joseph. Brigitte met her brother and they looked identical. This was my family now, and I was a mother and a wife. We finally got to go home the next morning with our two children. I slept for hours and woke up rested and excited. I was excited to hold my two babies, but even more excited to tell my grandmother and Atie about Jossue. I sent them a cassette with all the details of the birth and my best wishes to everyone back in Haiti.

Tante Atie sent back a cassette but it was one that I could not listen to the whole way through. Tante Atie informed me that grandmother passed away in her sleep. She said she found her Saturday morning in her bed. My heart stopped on the night of my baby’s birth my grandmother had passed away. I could not feel my body. My grandmother was flashing before my eyes, all the stories she told me, and all the advice she gave me. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. The woman who raised me and taught me everything I know was gone forever. I would not be able to ever see her again.

I needed to go back to Haiti to see my Tante Atie and to put my grandmother to rest. I had to do this to conclude my farewell and be at peace with everything. I was going back to Haiti where I was born and where all my memories were mad. It was hard to say goodbye to Joseph, Brigitte and Jossue but it was something that I had to do. Luckily I had a supportive husband who knew I had to leave. Joseph understood that I needed to leave, but he knew I would be back soon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Elida's book review

Elida Flores
English 103

Breath, Eyes, Memory
By Edwidge Danticat
Review by Elida Flores

In the book Breathe, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat gives a voice to a girl named Sophie. In fact, in the novel, Danticat gives a voice to immigrants and women all around the world. At age 12, Sophie, a Haitian, immigrates to New York to live with her mother Martine, who left her in Haiti with her sister Tante Atie as a baby. Sophie discovers the reality of an immigrant. She is faced with discrimination, harassment, pain and depression.

Tante Atie raised Sophie as if she was her own child. Sophie spent her first twelve years of her life in Haiti. Sophie is aware that her mother is in New York because her mother, Martine, would send them money and a cassette saying how she is and asking how all of them were doing. After hearing the news that Sophie would be going to New York to live with her mother, Sophie quickly becomes sad to leave Tante Atie. Tante Atie is like a mother to Sophie, she has not met Martine, just sees her pictures. I admire Sophie for being so understanding in the situation. Not many twelve year old girls would leave their country to live with a woman they have not met even though the woman is their mother.

When Sophie arrives in New York her mother shows her around the neighborhood and informs what she can expect in school. Sophie learns that kids at school are racist and harsh to immigrants. It is tough for an immigrant to deal with a new country let alone face racial prejudice. The kids at school make fun of Haitians, saying they have aids, are homosexuals and Heroin addicts. Sophie also learns about her mother’s past. She learns that her mother is a rape victim and that was how she got pregnant. Martine has nightmares and some psychological problems because of it. She never seeks help; she just works and gets by each day that way.

At the age of eighteen, Sophie falls in love. She falls in love with her neighbor. His name is Joseph and he is a musician and he is much older than her. For that reason Sophie hides her relationship with him from her mother because she knows her mom will not approve and Sophie is too in love to stay away from him. Sophie’s mother soon finds out that Sophie is dating Joseph that is when Martine starts to test Sophie to keep her pure. Sophie hates that her mother is testing her; in reaction she takes her own purity away in a harsh way. Sophie fails her last purity test and her mother, in anger, kicks her out. Sophie goes to Joseph and both happily got together.

Years later Sophie has a baby girl name Brigitte. She takes her daughter to Haiti to meet her Tante Atie and grandmother. There Sophie learns about the traditions in Haiti. Purity test has been a tradition in Haiti for a long time. Purity test is to prevent girls from losing their purity before marriage. Men in Haiti want their wives to be pure when they marry. A husband can shame a mother’s family if her daughter, his wife, is not pure. In a lot of cultures women purity is what men look for when they look for a wife.

Martine goes to Haiti to arrange her mother’s funeral. She meets again with Sophie since the day she made her leave her house. They talk like adults and try their best to be friends. Martine wants to start over with Sophie and begin a new relationship. Martine apologizes for being the way she was to Sophie. Since the two decide to be friends they talk about their issues. Sophie tells Martine that she has bulimia. And Martine tells Sophie how she used to have breast cancer. Sophie left back to New York with Martine and her daughter Brigitte. When they arrive Sophie stays for a night in Martine’s house. She sees her mother still has nightmares at night and is in a worst condition. Martine finally admits to Sophie that she is pregnant by her boyfriend, Marc. Martine is not happy to be pregnant instead she is terrified. She does not want to marry Marc who is a nice lawyer.

Sophie noticed that her mother is ill. She needs to talk to a professional but Martine refuses. She is afraid to be seen as a crazy woman then be locked up in a mental institute. Martine makes the decision to abort the baby. That night Sophie gets a call from Marc, he tells her that Martine stabbed herself in the stomach 17 times. Her body was sent to Haiti to be buried. Sophie went to Haiti and explains what has happened to her Tante Atie and grandmother. They tell her now that her mother is dead Sophie will live more in peace and free.

Although not all of the details are nonfiction, in reality many people have stories similar to this. Danticat did a good job to write about different issues women face, not only women but also immigrant issues. Danticat gave all the women in the novel a voice and their issues are different examples of the reality that many women have faced and still do to this day. That is why I enjoyed reading this book, Breath, Eyes, Memory. I recommend this book; it will open your eyes and you will see the reality of many women.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Michael's book review

Michael Barney
English 103
April 16, 2011


In her novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat tells a story about a voiceless little Haitian girl named Sophie. Danticat's novel tells a story of four generations of Haitian women: Grandme Ife, Tante Atie, Martine, and Sophie. Sophie is the niece of Tante Atie. Sophie’s mother, Martine, and Tante Atie are sisters.

Sophie lived in a small town in Haiti with Tante Atie until the age of twelve. I endorsed the way the narrator used Sophie's voice to shed light on the struggles of growing up in Haitian culture. In today’s society we see little girls like Sophie evolve into womanhood over a series of events: having their menstrual cycle, virginity testing, first sexual encounter, and marriage. When I read through each chapter, I was able to vicariously relate to each character’s inner struggle and see the affect it has on the dynamics of a family. It’s important to point out that Haitian women teach their daughters that virginity is a valued virtue, and virginity testing is done to ensure the family honor.

At the age of twelve, Sophie moves to New York to live with her mother. I found out that Danticat, too, was born in Haiti and moved to New York at the age of twelve. Upon learning that, I determined to read “Breath, Eyes, Memory” as if it may be autobiographical. When Sophie moves into her mother's apartment building, she is warned to stay away from the men. Can you predict what happens next? Sophie falls in love with a musician, Joseph, who lives in Providence. One night, after seeing Joseph, she returns home late and her mother makes her lie down on the bed. Sophie mouthed these words, “Hail Mary…so full of grace.” From there on out, Martine started to continuously test Sophie's virginity. Martine wants to make sure Sophie is befitting, untouched, and unsullied. Sophie becomes traumatized by these continuous dehumanizing tests. She was so traumatized that she uses a spice pestle to deflower herself – sever her hymen. The thought of Sophie’s red blood on the sheets made me quiver. Sophie’s emotional pain outweighed her physical pain, she says, “My flesh ripped apart as I pressed the pestle into it.” Why would she inflict such pain upon herself? When I thought about why, I immediately saw this self-injurious act as a distress call. Why did Sophie cut herself? Was it to be with Joseph?

I surmise that one of the many reasons is that her mother, Martine, was raped by a man who dragged her into a cornfield. The second theme is more obvious—Martine constantly checks to see if Sophie is still virginal. What was her intent behind cutting her hymen—it was a bid for independence – freedom comes with a high price; that price is blood.

After reading the entire novel, I was able to reflect on the reasons as to why Sophie cut her hymen. At times, I vividly sensed Sophie’s fear and pain; especially, when she cut herself. In Danticat’s novel, she infers the color red when telling a story about one of the characters. We all know that the color red symbolizes power, violence, and purity. In the novel, the color red represents the pain and suffering that Haitian woman endures. For example: Martine was violently raped in the sugarcane field; Sophie was the offspring of that tragedy, and more. As I continued to read, I tried to envisage when the color red would pop up again. Martine starts testing Sophie’s virginity. Sophie gives birth to a baby girl named Bridgett. Sophie takes Bridgett to Haiti when marital problems with Joseph arise. While in Haiti Sophie questions her mother, “Why did you put me through those tests?” Martine tells her that she did it because her mother did it to her. She tells Sophie that being raped stopped her mother from testing her. What she told Sophie about her rape and testing is quite interesting. She says that her two great pains (rape and testing) are related. She says, “I live both every day.” When Sophie decides to return to New York, Tante Atie tells her to “Treat your mother well, you don’t have her forever.” When Sophie’s van leaves for the airport, Tante Atie was standing under a red flamboyant tree.

As the story unfolds, Martine becomes pregnant with Marc’s baby. She tells Sophie that the pregnancy brings back images of the rape (she sees the rapist everywhere—even when she looks into Sophie’s eyes). Martine’s unborn baby opens some old scars and emotions; it reminds her of the rape. Martine did tell Sophie that when she was pregnant, her mother made her drink herbs and baby poison. She tells her “I tried beating my stomach with a wooden spoon. I tried to destroy you, but you wouldn’t go away.” She even tells Sophie, “I am going to get it out of me.” I thought these words were powerful. She appeared to really be talking to Sophie. Apparently, the images of the rape are so powerful that Martine was really telling Sophie that she wants to get her own child out of her stomach.

When Sophie return to New York, Tante Atie words ring true, “Treat your mother well, you don’t have her forever.” Sophie receives a phone call from Marc telling her Martine is dead. This is the apex of the color red. Marc tells Sophie that Martine, I went to the bathroom and “She stabbed herself in the stomach with an old rusty knife lying there “In blood. She was lying there in blood.” She stabbed herself in the stomach seventeen times. Marc tells Sophie, I counted them and they were counted again at the hospital.

I found Danticat’s novel to be intensely lyrical. After reading this novel, I thought she relayed a vivid sense of place and brought life to others through her images of fear and pain. In today’s society we see little girls like Sophie evolve into womanhood over a series of events, as noted well above. After reading Sophie's battle, especially the emotional and psychological distress she endured as a result of virginity testing, I now question that mode of intrusion. I question why a parent or an aunt would put their child through. But the real question is what types of methods are acceptable when testing a girl’s virginity? Actually, there is no easy answer for what is morally right or wrong--that premise is relative to one’s culture. I believe what is right for one group of people does not make it universal –a morally accepted principle. Before reading this novel, ask yourself: Do you favor the virginity testing? Let’s not forget the irreparable consequences it had on Sophie’s life.

>Born January 19, 1969, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; immigrated to United States, 1981; Danticat was born in Haiti and lived there the first 12 years of her life. She came to the United States in 1981, joining her parents who had already begun to build a life for themselves in New York City.

> Danticat's first novel, the loosely autobiographical Breath, Eyes, Memory, was a 1998 selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, thus assuring its bestseller status.

Trishawna's book extension - Breath, Eyes, Memory

Trishawna Fayerweather
English 103 Tuesday/ Thursday
Last chapter/book extension

After Martine's burial, Grandma Ife, Atie, Marc, and Sophie headed back to the house. It was quiet; no one made a sound all the way home. Grandma began to prepare super, and they followed along helping her out. Marc offered to help, but Grandma Ife declined his offer. Instead he looked through the house and went on a walk somewhere. On his way out Grandma Ife shouted, “be careful, and come back soon for supper.” This would be Sophie’s and Marc's last night before heading back to America, and Sophie would return to her husband and child and Marc would continue on with his life.

In the kitchen, Grandma Ife began to speak, “Its good you and Martine, worked out your difference.” Sophie nodded yes, trying to keep from crying. Atie comforted Sophie, and said, “You did a brave and good thing out there, confronting the problem, and setting your self free. You may be sad for a little but it will get better, you are a strong woman and your mother loved you.” Sophie hugged Atie and then they all continued cooking. Supper was ready fairly quickly, the table was set and they all set down to eat. Dinner was still quiet and slowly eaten; Sophie didn't even touch her food. “You going to eat Sophie?” Grandma Ife asked. “I am not really hungry," “well just try it its good cooking and you need to eat,” said Grandma. Sophie nodded her head, and tried some of the food.

It was long after when Marc returned. He sat down, said “thank you,” and begin to eat. In the face Marc looked as though he had been crying his tears out. He didn't speech much; he just ate, than excused himself from the table after finishing all his food, and went straight to bed. Time passed and Sophie was the last to leave the table, she cleared her plate and headed outside.

Out on the porch, Atie was sitting, she had her notebook, but it was closed and her head was down, she was crying. Sophie went to sit next to her. She lifted Atie's face and wiped her tears. “It’s heartbreaking she is gone, and it had to end like that, but she was miserable, she is at peace, and will no longer suffer," said Sophie trying to console Atie. "She loved us all though, she even told me in New York, how she wished you would've came to visit. She talked about you and her cruising the city, like you did in Haiti." Yes that would've been nice, and perhaps one day I will visit New York,” replied Atie. After that they sat in silence, as they both looked out into the night sky.

The morning shortly came, and Sophie and Marc prepared to leave. Sophie didn't want to leave but at the same time she missed Joseph and Bridgett. Marc said his finally words to Atie and Grandma Ife, gave them both hugs and thanked them for their hospitality. It would more than likely be their first and last time seeing him. Sophie followed behind him saying her good-byes too. “Kiss Bridgett for me,” shouted Atie. “Love you and be safe. Keep your head high Sophie,” said Grandma Ife. They waved in the yard as the van pulled off heading to the airport. Getting in the van, reminded Sophie of the time when her and Martine, went back to New York. Sophie and Marc didn’t talk the whole way to the airport. Sophie just thought about more memoires of her and her mother, and going to Providence again.

When they got on the plane, Marc finally spoke out to Sophie, “I don't know how many times I say this but I'm sorry about your mother, I am grieving also.” He continued to talk before she could say anything, “I really did love Martine, I wanted to marry her and have a child with her. I would have been fine if she didn't want to keep it. I just wanted her to be happy, I wish I could take it back and try something else to prevent her loss.” Sophie nodded her head, " yes that would've been nice if she was still here, it is not your fault, the problem was bigger than you me and her. I think she had in mind that she wanted to go; she could no longer continue living the pain she was going through. She loved you and I'm glad she had someone caring like you in her life." “It was nice to have met you, I wish you and your family the best of luck and I know you will do well in life. You have a good man too,” said Marc. “Thank you, but this doesn't have to be the last time we see each other.” Marc replied, “I think it better that way you continue your life and I'll do the same, I don't mean it in a hurtful way, it's just.” “I understand," continued Sophie. The conversation died off, and both fell asleep on the plane. Neither of them woke up until they reached New York. They stepped off the plane, but before departing Marc suggested Sophie come over to gather anything of Martine’s she may want to keep. “I’ll have to do that, but I can't right away, I will make a weekend trip with Joseph to do that." Marc nodded, gave her a hugged and went his way. Sophie went outside where her husband would pick her up.

Though it was a sad trip to Haiti she was happy to be home. Joseph was waiting outside near the car with Brigitte. Sophie reached for her and held her tight and Joseph hugged around Sophie tightly too. “Welcome back Sophie we missed you, and love you. Everything will be ok I am here for you to help you and be with you,” said Joseph. “I love you and I'm glad to be back." then they got in the car and headed back to Providence.

The week passed by fairly quickly, was back with her family, continuing her life. She, Joseph, and Bridgett were going to Martine’s house today to gather some things. During the week, Sophie had blocked out the fact that Martine wouldn't be there, but on the car ride there, the thought came back to her. She became sad as she went down memory lane again, and tears fell from her eyes. Joseph, who was driving, tried to console her. When they arrived Marc was standing in the yard. He had a blank stare on his face, and looked as though he had been out there for a while. The car pulled in the driveway; Sophie got out and greeted Marc while Joseph got Bridgett out the backseat. "Good seeing you guys," Marc said, “How you been holding up?" "Fine," answered Sophie. Marc spoke again and you Joseph?" "Good," he replied. They resumed talking as they headed inside the house.

Sophie went in first and looked around. Things looked the same, apart from Martine missing. Memories of the night of Martine’s death filled Sophie mind. The room grew quiet as she walked around the house. She went through all the rooms. Eventually she made it to the bathroom where the tragic scene took place, it had been cleaned. At the door Sophie stood, and envisioned Martine on the floor, blood everywhere, as her death grew near. The images and thoughts in her mind grew worse. In the background Joseph called for Sophie, she didn't answer, but he soon found her staring towards the bathroom floor. Joseph came behind her and held her close. Sophie came out of her daze and continued to Martine’s bedroom. The bed was made, the room was tidy, it smelled clean and had a scent of Martine’s smell lingering in the air. Sophie looked through the closet and held the hanging closed tight, it was almost as if she was hugging her mother again. She looked through Martine’s things. And soon begin to pick things, she wished to keep. Marc and Joseph helped out as much as they could.

After they finished, Sophie asked Joseph if they could stay one last night, before the house was sold. Joseph agreed, so Marc went to his house to bring things to cook for dinner. Marc brought some stuff for spaghetti. This was a meal that Sophie remembered Martine ate a lot. At dinner they all sat around the table. It was a good dinner. They talked of old times, made some jokes, and enjoyed each other’s presence like the last time they had dinner. Marc helped clean up before leaving, wished everyone a goodnight, then left. Joseph, Bridgett and Sophie all headed to Martine’s room where they all slept, in her mother’s bed. Brigitte, fell asleep right away in the middle of her parents. "She looks so peaceful," Joseph said. Sophie nodded yes. Joseph then kissed his daughter and wife, "goodnight Sophie, I love you," and shortly after he fell asleep.

Sophie was now up alone as she laid in the silent darkness. Memories still continued to fill her mind with thoughts of her mother. She thought about the time she moved to New York to be with Martine, the nightmares, the virginity test, when she moved out, building a new relationship, and more times they had together. Like Grandma Ife told Sophie, it was good she and Martine solved their differences. Sophie was pleased about that also. She wished she had more times with Martine. Sophie finally managed to close her eyes, though still awake. She began to hear what sounded like Martine’s voice in her ear. "Sophie, Sophie, I'm sorry my child to have left like that. Don't you worry Sophie you will do great in life, I love you Sophie, I love you and I am free and so are you. We shall meet up again one day. I love you Sophie I love you." The voice of Martine slowly faded away. Sophie opened her eyes, for she knew her mother had just spoken to her. She smiled and whispered back, “I love you too.” Sophie then closed her eyes and played the voice of her mothers’ words over again and again until she fell asleep.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Heidi's book review

English 103 – Writing a book review
Breath Eyes Memories by Edwidge Danticat
Kyoungok Yoon (Heidi)

Voiceless Women

In the novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, the author Edwidge Danticat shows how tradition and society affects women’s lives so deeply and for several generations. It is a novel with fiction and some dramatic events, but it seems like the author’s real story; Danticat reflects her life in the main character Sophie who grew up in Haiti and immigrated to the U.S.A. just as she experienced in her life. Danticat is famous for her story telling especially for voiceless people such as women, Haitian, and poor people. Through this journey, I have got to think about rooted traditions in the society, hardship of immigrants, oppressed women (their desire and limitation), and education as a hope.

Sophie is the narrator of this story who lives in Haiti. When Sophie is twelve years old, her mother Martine invites her to New York where Martine lives and works to support the whole family. For the first time Sophie gets to see her mother. The living environment is extremely different in New York. Sophie has to get accustomed to a whole new life, living as a minority, different race and language from the majority. To survive well in immigrant life, Martine always emphasizes the importance of education, mastering English quickly, and becoming a doctor.

It is important to understand that Martine tells her story about how she conceived after she got raped by anonymous man and she became mentally ill for all of her life. This fact gives me a big question about the relationship between this mother and daughter. How does Martine feel about her daughter? Can she really love the daughter? Why she tells about the rape to the innocent child? Sophie did not do anything wrong, but she has to live with guilty and obligation to some degree.

The most critical event of this book happens when Sophie starts to date Joseph, who later becomes a husband. In this depressed story, this romantic part was like a short break of sweetening. However, Martine starts testing Sophie to check the virginity. If you are a woman, imagine that your mother puts her finger into your body to see if the finger goes in smoothly or not. How awful! This could give a young girl a trauma for the whole life, making her think that having a relationship with a man is forbidden or criminal. It actually challenges Sophie marital life; she feels her body is shameful, and she is reluctant to attend a marital duty.

However, I don’t want to blame Sophie’s unhappy marriage solely on Martine because I think Martine is the biggest victim in this story and I feel really sorry for her damage. She has nightmares every night as she dreams of the evil rapist. During those times, somebody has to wake her up so that she does not torture herself physically. Her strictness and excessive expectations on Sophie is coming from the rape experience. A woman who once had a dream of becoming important now puts all her frustrated hope on her daughter. She said, “You have a chance to become the kind of woman Atie and I have always wanted to be. If you make something of yourself in life, we will all succeed. You can raise our heads” (44). Besides, Martine lives diligently, working days and nights to support living expenses for her sister and mother in Haiti although her life is filled with loss and damages.

When Sophie grows up and becomes a mother, she finally asks her mother why she did the test. The reason was “because my mother had done it to me. I have no greater excuse” (170). She even says that being tested was one of the most terrible things happened in her life, but she tested Sophie simply because her mother did it to her. Here, I again don’t want to blame solely on Martine. In their culture, it must be a kind of compelling practice or a role as a caring mother. The power of rooted tradition is so strong that every woman naturally practiced it without questioning. The old generation was a society of sexism where women were expected to be virgin until they marry and if not, they were regarded as a shame on family. That is what society and people expected women to be, therefore, all women who practiced those testing voluntarily and who got tested were all victims of the unfair social system.

There are also some interesting short stories when Sophie visits to Haiti. Her grandmother Ife is a good story teller. She tells stories to the children of the village. Interestingly, most of her stories are about sexism. One story is about a husband who bleeds her wife to death in order to show off to the village people that his wife is a proud virgin. Other stories are about a warning of a man faking and trying to steal women’s virgin and about how husbands react differently when their wives give birth of a girl and boy. These stories are only one or two pages in the novel, but they are meant to contribute to the bigger theme of the story: oppressed women by men and society.

Another main character is Sophie’s aunt Atie. I actually did not like her life much. One time, she says to Sophie that as a woman her ten fingers are named for her, which are “Mothering. Boiling. Loving. Baking. Nursing. Frying. Healing. Washing. Ironing. Scrubbing” (151). She simply accepts her limitation as a woman and did not do anything to improve her life. She raised a young Sophie and after sending her away, she becomes a helpless person. It seems like she did not even try to adjust to a new situation. She could have learned how to read and write earlier, she could have married or had a baby, and she could have gone to New York to start a new life. She just sticks to one duty of taking care of though her mother does not want to have unhappy daughter near her.

I did not like the ending very much. It was much unexpected and even shocking to me. However, I was happy to see improvement over the four generation. It gives us a hope to be extinguishing all those unfairness and discrimination we have in the society someday in the near future. If the grandmother Ife was a source of mythical story and thoughts and the one who implemented unfair practices, the very next generation Martine and Atie were the biggest victims. They were not given a chance of education and they were poor to realize their dreams. The third generation Sophie shows a possibility to change the unfair custom by expressing and questioning to the old generations. It is because she is more educated and she even takes a chance to fix her problem caused by the custom by seeing a therapist. In this flow, the next generations are going to stand up for their freedom and rights and against unfair ritual customs to change the society.

The story is about a life of Sophie from young to motherhood, but it is not dealing with only a woman’s personal growth. While the story goes to Haiti and New York back and forth, it delivers the social and cultural issues in both countries. It was one depressing story, but we can vicariously feel self-fulfillment at the end through what Sophie bravely faces and achieved.

Work Cited
Danticat, Edwidge. Breath, Eyes, Memory. New York: Vintage Books, 1998. Print.

Wesley's and Louis' book reviews

Breath, Eyes, Memory,
Review by Wesley Oberhelman

Breath, Eyes, Memory
is a fictional novel written by Edwidge Danticat. It depicts the struggles of a young Haitian girl, Sophie, growing up in America. Sophie’s estranged mother forces her to leave Haiti to live with her in Queens, New York. Danticat uses illustrative metaphors and poetic vocabulary to demonstrate the hardships the twelve-year-old faces upon her move to a foreign land with no knowledge of its language or culture. Upon arrival to America, Sophie’s new life instantly proves to be difficult after she experiences humiliation based on her skin tone, struggles with bulimia, her mother’s ritualistic “testing”, the revealing of her father, and the untimely and unexpected death of her mother. I am glad I came across the novel in my English 103 class, otherwise I most likely would not have seen it. Danticat’s style of writing and knowledge of Haitian culture adds a realistic sense to the novel. I would suggest the book to anyone really, particularly those trying to expand their knowledge of Haitian culture and those who have faced hardships when transitioning to new cultures.

Sophie experiences massive culture shock upon her arrival to America, unfortunately she was not forewarned. She received constant ridicule and racist remarks from her peers and the people around her. The Haitian community from which she was raised was poor and could not provide her with education on the language and culture in America. Her mother, Martine, aware of the problem Haitian children have with integrating into white communities, enrolls her in English classes and a private bilingual institute. Regardless of Martine’s efforts, Sophie was constantly teased by other kids. She reminisces on the taunting she faced in her pre-teens, an eighteen-year-old Sophie says, “I never said this to my mother, but I hated the Maranatha Bilingual Institution… Outside the school, we were the Frenchies… students from the public school across the street called us boat people and stinking Haitians” (Danticat 66). The rejection from other students enrages Sophie; at one point in the novel she actually wishes to be shrunken, put into an envelope, and mailed to Haiti. On top of carrying the weight of mockery and rejection on her shoulders, she must live with the horrifying truth that she is a product of rape. When her mother was sixteen she was violently raped and impregnated, nine months later, Sophie was born.

In Haitian tradition in the book is for the women to be ritually “tested” for their virginity. This involves the mother gently touching the women’s genitals in order to confirm that the hymen is still intact. Although many women, including Sophie, disagree with tradition, it is still performed. After reuniting with Martine in Haiti after not speaking for two years, Martine tells Sophie, "I did it... because my mother had done it to me. I have no greater excuse. I realize standing here that the two greatest pains of my life are very much related. The one good thing about my being raped was that it made the testing stop. The testing and the rape. I live both every day” (Danticat 170). The testing begins for Sophie when she turns eighteen, and shortly after, she takes measures into her own hands by breaking her own hymen on a pestle. This act alienates Sophie from her mother as she is not “pure” anymore.

The death of Sophie’s mother comes as an incredible shock to the reader. I myself was surprised at the horrific detail described in her death. She had recently become pregnant by her new boyfriend, Marc. She says, “I didn’t tell you what I had decided. I am going to get it out me... Pray to the Virgin Mother for me” (Danticat 216-217). The way that she presents her decision foreshadows the events to come. No, sorry, I’m not going to give the ending away. You’ll just have to check it out at the library for yourself.

Overall I thought the novel was interesting and with the help of Danticat’s smooth, almost lyrical writing, you won't be able to put this book down. I usually prefer movies over books, although reading this novel is practically like watching a movie. Danticat’s incredible depiction of life in Haiti and the slums of New York paint a picture that is far too realistic and easily imaginable.

Book Review by Louis Malval

Breath, Eyes, Memory is a fiction book written by Edwidge Danticat. She is a woman with Haitian origin that started to write very early in her life. Mainly the purpose of her books and novels is to speak for those who can’t, the voiceless. She is very fond of story telling which you will see if you read the book.

I like to smile. This book doesn’t have much in it that makes me smile, I’m not saying it’s a bad book it is just very much filled with reality.

Breath, Eyes, Memory starts off in Haiti where you first meet a young Haitian girl named Sophie. Sophie is twelve years old and is living happily with her aunt at this time, but things will change. When Sophie was younger her mother left her to go to New York that is why she now lives with her aunt. Her grandmother is also living nearby and she is a very nice person. The father is a mystery in the beginning of the book, but later on the story reveals who he is.

The problems starts for Sophie when she, one day, gets a plane ticket sent from her mother, and a letter where it says “I want my daughter back.” Sophie likes living in Haiti. She feels safe there. Her aunt is like her mother. Sophie barely knows her biological mother since they haven’t seen each other in a long time. After this point I felt everything in her life was going downhill.

Sophie moves to her mother in New York and when she gets there she has to go to an American school which turns out not to be easy at all for a young Haitian girl. The other kids insult her daily for her accent and they say that she has HBO Haitian Body Odor, which of course they just made up so they could insult her even more. This was a really hard time for Sophi; and it was not only the school that was hard for her, she had to learn a whole new language! And her mother, Martine is putting all this pressure on her about what she thinks Sophie should be and how she should perform and what college she should get in to. I’m not saying Martine is a bad mother, even though it seems like that now. Martine is working long double shifts every day just to get enough money so she can have her daughter go to school and then college so the mother is really caring and sometimes she is too much I feel.

I think about my mother sometimes when I read this book. My mother is just so worried about me and she wants everything to be perfect for me, but sometimes it feels that she just cares too much. Even though school is tough for Sophie she uses it as a weapon to make herself feel better and escape a bit from the reality I think. She studies very hard and I think that some of it is to make her mother proud and satisfied too.

The Caco family that Sophie has is a very traditional one. For example it is common for Haitian families to practice virginity testing from mother to daughter which can seem very harsh. At least I thought it was. But remember that was just this Haitian family even the author Edwidge Danticat that is from Haiti ensures you in the after word that this doesn’t happen in every family.

Another thing is that they tell a lot of stories generation from generation. You also get to learn a lot about Haiti as a country and how people are and how the government treats people. It is a country that is very different from where I’m from which is Sweden and also different from where I live which is America. A lot of the differences I like about Haiti, like some of their traditions and how they use story telling from generation to generation.

In the end I don’t know if I liked the book, It is a very interesting book and very well written but I don’t think it is my taste. I did not dislike the book, but I did not love it either. It is written so it’s easy to understand and it is very interesting since you learn about a new culture.

You learn how it feels to be an immigrant from the perspective of a young girl from the island of Haiti coming to America. The book takes you very close to the people in the book and sometimes it’s a little too close. Edwidge Danticat is very good at capturing feelings and emotions in the text, I have not read any other of her books but I’ve heard they are really good, so even though it’s not a perfect book for me I really think you should read it.

The book was published in 1998-05-08 and the ISBN to get the buy the book online easy is: 037570504X.

Mayra's & Dickson's book reviews

Breath, Eyes, Memory
By Edwidge Danticat
Review by Mayra Esparza
April 19, 2011
I’ve never been to Haiti and I never realized how much women suffered because they didn’t have a voice, Novelist Edwidge Danticat made me feel like I was part of every situation throughout her whole novel. The story shows how each character suffers in different ways but each of those obstacles makes them stronger.

Danticat’s voice made me like this book a lot. Her voice was very clear and it showed that she knew what she was talking about. The topics she talks about in her novel really focuses on ways that women suffer but women tend to not talk about them. She helps bring a voice to women who tend to be voiceless.  The way she described each situation made me feel like I was part of the novel. I would get butterflies just by her details. I would put myself in one of the character’s shoes and I would get goosebumps because I didn’t know what I would do if I was going through the same exact obstacles they were going through.

A little girl, Sophie, lives with her aunt Atie for twelve years. After those twelve years, she has to move to New York with her mother, Martine. Once Sophie moves to New York, she faces getting tested weekly to see if she is still a virgin, she encounters rape, moving away, getting married, sexual intercourse, and dealing with her mother’s nightmares. The obstacles and solutions these voiceless women encounter in Breath, Eyes, Memory will make you not want to put the book down.

Sophie, Martine, and Atie all go through tough obstacles in their lifetime. Reading about each of their obstacle made me sad because I cannot imagine myself or one of my loved ones having to go through those obstacles. It would break my heart. It hurts me to know that many women in this world are going or have been through one of those obstacles but stay quiet about it. To me it seems like they might be scared of what people will say or think about them.

Martine was raped at a very young age. Unfortunately, that was how Sophie was conceived. Martine would have nightmares of her rapist and she was never the same after she got raped. The nightmares came almost every night. She would wake up yelling, crying and even sweating. When Sophie moved with her, she met a guy, Joseph, who she really liked. She would spend a lot of her time hanging out with him. Martine caught her coming home late so she began testing her weekly to make sure she was still a virgin. Sophie didn’t want that to happen so she raped herself with a pestle. Sophie wasn’t the same after that incident. When she would have sexual relationships with her husband, she thought the worst of herself and would try holding back her tears. Both Martine and Sophie didn’t talk about it, it seemed like they kept this issue to themselves.

These days, there are still women who get raped and many still don’t talk about it. Many women are in denial of what happened and tend to blame themselves so they keep it bottled up inside. Talking about rape is one of the hardest topics for women. I feel that when women bottle up this trauma they tend to enter depression. Once they have entered depression they risk the chance of entering an eating disorder and thinking suicidal thoughts. Like Martine, some have nightmares about this horrible experience for most of their lives.

From personal experience, almost being a rape victim, I entered depression. I can say that I had an eating disorder, I would think of suicide, and I blamed myself for what happened. I felt like I would never be able to trust anybody; thus led me to keep it bottled up. I was voiceless. I felt ashamed. I feel like women need more support to be able to talk about this traumatizing experience. Women should find the strength to talk about it with someone because it is the biggest step towards the healing process. Although opening up to someone and describing what happened is a very hard step a woman needs to take.

It seems like Danticat is telling her story in Breath, Eyes, Memory. She is showing how she was voiceless and after many years she was able find her voice and share it with everyone. I feel like the biggest theme of this novel is voiceless women. Danticat really shows throughout her novel how women do not speak up and until this day it has not really changed. She shows how women tend to fear having a voice in this world. That’s why everything in Breath, Eyes, Memory all seems very true.

Breath, Eyes, Memory is filled with many different characters. Some of the characters, i.e. Marc and Joseph, are very helpful and understanding. They try helping Sophie and Martine as much as possible to overcome their fear. They try showing Sophie and Martine that they are safe with them. Everyone needs a friend no matter how they are or what they do. Every single person in this world needs at least one person to lean on especially when times get rough and you feel like there is no way out.

Even though this novel was written a couple years ago, most of these situations that Sophie, Martine, and Atie go through are still happening in today’s world. They are happening in any town or city where women tend to stay quiet about what they go through.

In this world, every woman should have the courage and strength to be able to speak her mind and be able to live her life without fear, shame or guilt. But if you want to know what happens to Sophie, Martine, Atie, and the rest of the people who are part of Breath, Eyes, Memory, you’ll have to read the book!

Breath, Eyes, Memory

by Edwidge Danticat
Review by Dickson Hong

      I had no idea about Haitian culture, but novelist Edwidge Danticat made me realize how a traditional Haitian family lives and the problems that are caused by the family. The story Breath, Eyes, Memory is told by a Haitian girl, Sophie who grows up in a traditional Haitian family. She moves to New York when she is thirteen years old. She encounters many problems in a traditional Haitian family.
      Sophie grows up with her aunt Tante Atie before she moves to New York. She has never seen her mother and has no idea about her mother. The only thing she knows about her mother is the photo on the night table by aunt Atie’s bed. She regards Tante Atie as her mother. She even makes a card for Tante on Mother’s Day. In the card, she writes that, “My mother is a daffodil, limber and strong as one. My mother is a daffodil, but in the wind, iron strong.” When she has to move to New York, she is reluctant to leave aunt Atie. I can feel that the relationship between Sophie and aunt Atie is very deep. This is also the reason why Sophie doesn’t want to leave aunt Atie, and she goes far away to New York to meet her real mother who she has never seen. It is very hard for Sophie to leave aunt Atie. When Sophie arrives in New York, she encounters other problems. One of the problems is racial discrimination. She is discriminated by the public school students. They call her “boat people” and “stinking Haitians.” In the story, you can know how strong the racial discrimination is in New York. 
        Besides the racial discrimination, she also needs to face the truth of her birth. When Sophie is thirteen years old, her mother, Martine tells Sophie that she was raped and she had Sophie. She doesn’t care that Sophie is too young to know the truth. It hurts the emotion of Sophie, but she bravely accepts the truth. In contrast, Matine couldn’t evade the pain of the rape. She decides to commit suicide to stop the pain in her heart. In this event, I can learn that it has a lot of different decisions and the effect depends on the choice that you choose.
      When she meets her husband Joseph, she starts to be “tested” by her mother. Sophie needs to be checked by her mother for keeping her virginity. The “test” is a traditional rule in some families. Her mother and aunt Atie start to be “tested” by grandme Ife, when they were teenagers. They feel ashamed and hate the “test”. They don’t want to be “tested”, but they aren’t able to refuse. Although the purpose of the tradition is keeping the girls pure, it doesn’t respect the human right of the girls. 
       In the novel, Danticat describes the unfair treatment between male and female in Haiti. It makes me realize that the value of male and female are different in Haiti. In a part of the story, Sophie and her grandmother grandme Ife are having dinner and talking the birth of the baby. They look at the shack on the hill, and grandme Ife explains the treatment between different gender babies. Grandme Ife says that, “If it is a boy, the lantern will be put outside the shack. If there is a man, he will stay awake all night with the new child.” Then, she talks about the girl, “If it is a girl, the midwife will cut the child’s cord and go home. Only the mother will be left in the darkness to hold her child. There will be no lamps, no candles, no more light.” It makes me believe that Haitian regards the male as more important than the female. I also find that Haiti is a patriarchal society and the sex discrimination of the tradition and the religion are too strong in this country. The women can’t have the same treatment as the men. They can’t be treated better than men, and they can’t also be as free as the men.
      In the novel, I can see a lot of different types of voicelessness that are caused by the different reasons in the society, such as tradition, religion, violence, patriarchy, and society’s oppression.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Our Elders - Listen - instructor's contribution

My students are creating blogs and I took the opportunity to join them in the experience

My friendship with May made the assignment easy. May is a pleasure and easy to talk to. She has not lost one bit of her individuality and it makes our conversations lively. She holds her own. May's age and her positive attitude is an inspiration. I hope that if I live to such a rich and ripe age that I am able to stay as warm and as considerate as Aunt May.

 Meet James.

James is a member of Friendship Center.  This center caters to the wise ones in our society. 
My interview with James, May, Alice and Loretta was an experience I will never forget.  I learned; I laughed; and I became a little wiser.  You will too I hope after listening to the precious words they shared with me.

I call her Aunt May.
May is an amazing woman.  She is a role model.  Can you believe it?  This young woman is 91 years old.   
 She is a real friend.  This woman listened to me when I was struggling with my mother's death.  Since then we've lost her sister and we both miss her.  Now, May and I sit and chat every Thursday afternoon.  And every Thursday I leave with more respect for the wisdom that comes with age.  Aunt May makes growing old seem easy.  A pain here and a pain there, but she doesn't let it stop her.  Always with a splash of color, Aunt May arrives at the Friendship Center and exhibits a strength and determination that she shares with others.

Listen to May.

The name

The story

The advice

James tells us about his amazing mother who had to leave school during the Depression of the 30's to work.  She then met his dad and fell in love.

May tells us about her brothers and sisters.

Friday, April 8, 2011

English 103 - book reviews on Breath, Eyes, Memory


I am spending my Friday reading and I must thank you for such a rewarding experience.

All of the book reviews were interesting; they all had style; they all spoke the truth; they all reminded me of why I teach.

I am proud of the profession and I am proud of your work.

I am now going to read the extensions and I will be back in touch.

I will give you them back on Tuesday. I'd like you to do the editing and then send me a copy on email so that I can upload copies to the blog. I'd also like you to bring me a new hard copy so that I can make a little publication. I want them out on the wall for others to read.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Student responses on blog - 4/7/11

I really appreciate the student responses and I am listening. Overall, the students feel that the project is worthwhile and that they enjoy the challenge.

Some of those challenges prove to be difficult or making things slow. The blog is new to us, to them, and it makes it a little confusing and slow.

What that means for us is that we stumble and run a little, but we keep going.

As I read the students' responses and honesty, I realized that what might make people wait is the fact that when we are together in the CAI lab we feel supported and encouraged and then we want to upload the work.

In the future we must have workshops. We need editing workshops so that people are not too shy to share. We all make writing mistakes and we must learn to help each other edit.

I agree with the student comment about the difficulty of setting the blogs up. What we can do before the end of the semester is write up the steps so that the next class has more information.

Time and student interest/commitment - 4/7/11

I learned two things today and I asked for student input for next week. I want to hear what the students think and what they want.

In my opinion, blogs are great for student sharing and publishing. What do students think?

I underestimated the time it would take for us to become acquainted with all of the challenges we would encounter. For example:
1. Time: time to find information, time in the lab, length of project time
2. group commitment: what happens when one member of the group is not giving or finding information? What to do when a group seems disconnected from the class; what happens when a group's fun over takes the work?
3. Editing - students are uploading information without checking it for errors. They don't seem to be working as a group to edit the written work.
4. Some students show independence and others wait for classroom time and instruction.
5. Blogs need pre-blog workshops and continuous managing.

But, that is not such a problem because we have a few weeks of school and we can take the time to make the blogs worthwhile.

Today, Thursday, I had to be away but I signed in at the class time. Only 12 students showed up for the class. The class is made up of 20 students.

Some blogs show commitment and college motivation. Other blogs show very little progress. I cannot jump to conclusions, but it raises the question about student interest and commitment.

It made me think that those students who see creative projects as "work" can choose to opt out. No project is interesting without the enthusiasm and motivation of the participants.

Thursday 4/7/11 - the talking blog

So, today I'm away and I want to try this. My students are in class in Santa Barbara and I'm in New York. I'm three hours ahead. It's 11:30 and 8:30 for them. I'm going to keep track of the blogs and write on my blog at the same time. I will email the students and let them know I'm on the blog.

Pieces are being posted before editing. Please discuss the piece with your group members. Please read them out loud and let the other members read them. Please check spelling and sentences before you post.

Insighters I received your message and I appreciate your hard work. I am doing a lot of reading and sending out messages about editing. Keep it up.

Hello to all, I read your comments and I was again inspired. I am glad you like the blog idea. Someone mentioned the difficulty. Please tell us about the problems when we meet. I want to hear and we need to face them and fix them.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Student assessments - half semester measurements

I will be adding excerpts from student assessments of an English 103 class.

This post will give students the chance to review and reread their own words and their own ideas about what it takes to be successful. It will also give them access to each other's ideas, opinions, and suggestions. It will also act as a reminder.

Assessment question: What are your suggestions for both the individual and the group?

Individual assessment:
My suggestions for myself are that I could find more info/details from materials and put them on our project. Instead of focusing on the main things; I could've read more and find something more interesting.

I think the members can prepare at home. They can search for some information and think of some ideas and write down on the paper. When we are in the class we can combine our stuff and ideas. WE can discuss the project with the information that we have. I think it will help the project to be better and it won't waste time.

My suggestions from myself and to the group is just to keep up with what and how we are working and then it will come out great.

Making a post was a fun activity which I've never done before. I was so proud of the result of the group project.

Writing a journal individually is very helpful, making me read carefully and writing. I made me to study a lot for class. By doing research I am also learning a lot of new things.
Working in a group can sometimes be frustrating. Everybody just needs to work together and also value each other's opinion. The individual must speak up so their opinions can be heard.

When working in a group all people in the group should talk, share and make a plan together. Everybody should help pitch in. As a person in a group make sure you help out and are open minded, with ideas, work together. Keep away from conflict because at the end you all have a common goal to finish it and get a good grade.

Work as a team and do not procrastinate

I could have printed the work bigger. The group could have not procrastinated so much.

I think our group works well together because we have our own different ideas and we incorporated it into our work.

My suggestions for the individual is to always speak your mind. No idea is stupid and input always helps. To the group I would say don't let people get left out, help each other out and make them contribute.

I suggest the students would better be served by having to present (a presentation) of the project.