Breath, Eyes, Memory
"I come from a place where breath, eyes, and memory are one, a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your head."
This novel is the story of Sophie Caco, a Haitian woman raised by her aunt until the age of 12, when she goes to live with her mother in New York City. Each of the novel's four parts deals with a different period in Sophie's life: her childhood in Haiti, early adulthood in New York City, a visit back to Haiti a couple years later, and events following that visit. Central to Sophie's story are her matriarchal relationships: her grandmother; her aunt, Tante Atie, who never married and feels duty-bound to care for her own mother; and Sophie's mother Martine, who conceived Sophie as a result of being raped by a Macoute (a member of Francois Duvalier's militia). Martine has never overcome the emotional damage caused by the rape, and while she loves Sophie, finds it difficult to be in relationship with her. Sophie herself bears significant scars from "testing," a traumatic practice, passed down from generation to generation, in which mothers physically verify their daughters' virginity. Much of the novel is devoted to the delicate balance inhernet in mother-daughter relationships, and in this case heightened by traumatic experiences.
Danticat's debut novel is tightly written and offers insight into rural Haitian culture and, to a limited degree, the conditions during Duvalier's time in power. I am looking forward to reading more of Danticat's work. ( )