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Brother, I'm Dying


Brother, I'm Dying

Bill Maher says, if you're not embarrassed being an American these
days, then you must be dead. Edwidge Danticat's memoir BROTHER, I'M
DYING, this year’s National Book Award finalist, never points
a "shame on you" finger at anyone. But once you've digested the
dramatic, poignant and unsentimental experiences of her beautiful
book, you will be ashamed and disgusted by America's kneejerk
reactions to the many people who flock to this nation thinking it
is still the land of opportunity.


Edwidge's parents left her native Haiti when she was four years
old, for the America of old where they might escape the oppressive
strictures of the Duvalier government and make their way in a world
of freedom and opportunity. Her parents left her and her brother in
the care of her uncle Joseph, a man who profoundly affected the
person she grew up to be. She calls him the man who "knew all the
verses for love." (Who wouldn't want such an epitaph?) Until she
was 12, he and his family guided her as one of their own. As an
enthusiastic pastor, he made moral lessons sing for her and was
able to encourage her interests in nursing as well as writing. At
the age of 12, however, her parents called her to New York, where
she was reunited with her younger siblings and the father she had
barely known before.


Leaving behind Joseph and her colorful extended family was
exceedingly difficult and emotional for her. In fact, once she
left, Joseph was stricken with an illness that kept him from
speaking --- so Edwidge and her brother who had lived with him
could not even talk to him by phone. She concentrated instead on
her studies while fearing more and more each day the deteriorating
political system in her homeland. Finally, in 2004, Joseph, having
survived threats of great physical violence at the hands of roving
gangs in Haiti, decided to join the rest of the family in the


At the age of 81, he makes his way to Miami, where he is detained
by Homeland Security, brutally imprisoned and fatally wounded.
Edwidge's father is then told that he has little time to live on
the same day that Edwidge finds out she is pregnant with her first
child. The baby who will bear his name keeps him alive until
shortly after his birth. Then the writer bravely struggles on,
mourning the deaths of the two men most important to her while
basking in the glow of motherhood.


Is this an amazing story or what? As a piece of fiction, surely
Danticat would have brought her usually strong prose to make it
come alive. But here in BROTHER, I'M DYING, the fact that this is
the actual story of her life with these men is both fantastical and
heartbreaking. The restraint that she exercises in not pointing
fingers at our strident and fascistic post-9/11 government and with
which she discusses situations that would bring most spiritual
people to their knees in anger is beyond admirable --- it is
downright remarkable. The soul of this woman is spread across these
pages with a determination and urgency that is unforgettable.


BROTHER, I'M DYING explores the slippery slope of fear and loathing
in our contemporary culture with a personal insight you are not
going to find anywhere else. This is one memoir that Oprah should
be forcing on the public --- we can all learn a great deal about
real unconditional love and patience from this powerful

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 7, 2011

Brother, I'm Dying
by Edwidge Danticat

  • Publication Date: September 4, 2007
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 1400041155
  • ISBN-13: 9781400041152