Building Bridges

Building Bridges

Friday, April 22, 2011

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.

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