My first thought upon picking up this novel: Damn, this lady has the coolest name I’ve ever heard. See, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been ignorant about this incredible writer. This was the first book I’ve read from her, but it will not be the last.
What have here a novel, kind of. A novel-in-stories, kind of. A narrative, kind of. The stories have different settings, different characters, but they all contain the same dark, mysterious aura. The titular character, (but not really the “main” character), is a hired thug for the dictatorial Duvalier regime in Haitia. The Dew Breaker tortures people for a living, and he’s pretty damn good at his job.
But, wait. We’re not in Haiti anymore.
Now we’re in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I lived in this neighborhood for several years and I can honestly say that no one has captured the feel of this place better than Danticat.
Wait, now we’re back in Haiti, where a minister goes on the radio and denounces the brutal regime that is destroying his country. Knowing he will be murdered for his views, he says, “life was neither something you defended by hiding nor surrendered calmly on other people’s terms, but something you lived bravely, out in the open, and that if you had to lose it, you should also lose it on your own terms.”
This book is about Haitians, their history, their families, their tragedies. Haitians are arguably the most abused and oppressed people on earth. Every empire and power-hungry thug has gotten kicks out of torturing these poorest of the poor. Danticat describes these horrors with beautiful language and poetic sensibility. But she’s no pessimist. This isn’t a sob story. It’s a story of forgiveness, love and, ultimately, freedom.