Great Characterization Lives on in Danticat’s, Brother, I’m Dying
By Yolande Clark-Jackson
Brother I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat is a dynamic and tragic memoir about the close relationship between two brothers, between fathers and their daughters, and between life and death. Danticat shares the stories of her father and her uncle who at the time Danticat is pregnant with her first child, are both dying.
Danticat makes great choices about dialogue and has a beautiful writing style. Her strength in this book, however, is her ability to pay close attention to people and their relationships with their world. All the people in her family make up a big interesting cast of characters with stories that are weaved into the larger story the author presents. This includes, but is not limited to, the chaotic and violent political history of Haiti. She also makes use of the Shakespearean tendency to present a tragic hero. The difference is this story is true. The reader is invested in Danticat’s family story because it is full of unbelievable strife and interesting people. She keeps a clear narrative distance and lets her family, her characters, act out their dramas on center stage. It is easy to forget you are reading nonfiction.
Lots of people die in Danticat’s story, and the details about how these people die and what they looked like after they were dead seemed a necessary feature in satisfying the author’s curiosity about how and why death appears. Yet, despite the many deaths that she has had to endure or hear about, Danticat reminds herself and the reader that death is unavoidable and like life, must be accepted for what it is. She relays this message through the telling of Haitian folklore and through conversations she has had with her grandmother and her father. Her father once told her that if he wasn’t a cab driver he would be a grocer or an undertaker because “we all must eat and we all must die.”
The grief in the book, however, is clearly transferred from the writer to the reader. The reader is invested in the characters presented and in the nameless victims that have fallen due to injustice in Haiti. The reader is moved between sadness and fear and then pushed to frustration and anger before releasing the last pages.
Brother, I’m Dying is a strong and well-constructed story that illustrates the power of characterization in any well-told story. Danticat shares her family, her culture, her fear, her frustration, and her grief, and the reader cares enough to mourn her losses with her.
Danticat, Edwidge. Brother, I’m Dying. New York: Random House, 2007.