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Brother, I'm Dying, by Edwidge Danticat

The novelist Edwidge Danticat had two fathers. One, Mira Danticat, left Haiti for America when Edwidge was 2, and couldn

From the magazine

The novelist Edwidge Danticat had two fathers. One, Mira Danticat, left Haiti for America when Edwidge was 2, and couldn’t reunite the entire family until 10 years later. The man who raised Edwidge in the meantime was her uncle Joseph, a minister and community leader in Port-au-Prince. Three years ago, the two brothers were buried together in a cemetery in Queens, N.Y., in a country neither had ever embraced as home. Mira, after a long career as a New York cab driver, had told his children during his final days that he regretted having to die as a virtual exile. Joseph’s estrangement from America had been even greater. He died at 81 in the custody of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Uncle Joseph was clearly no terrorist but a “remarkable man,” said Jess Row in The New York Times. His dramatic story takes up the better part of Edwidge Danticat’s “clear-eyed” and “unflinching” memoir about the brothers’ separate encounters with the whims of history. Always an idealist, Joseph made his Port-au-Prince church a center of social support and political activism even after throat cancer forced him to preach through a mechanical voice box. He didn’t give up on his impoverished neighborhood when gang members burned down the church in 2004, after it had been used by U.N. peacekeepers as a gun turret. He was planning to rebuild when he traveled to Miami seeking temporary asylum and was placed in shackles. Denied his routine medications, he collapsed at a federal detention center four days later and was dead the next evening.

“As always” in Danticat’s writing, the tone throughout Brother, I’m Dying is refreshingly unsentimental, said Betsy Willeford in The Miami Herald. Though Danticat has multiple strands to follow and much history to convey, “the book is tightly structured, the narrative taut on its triangular frame.” Much of its power is generated by “small, piercing scenes,” said Donna Rifkind in the Los Angeles Times. In this family, Edwidge long ago assumed the role of the storyteller, and she bears that responsibility with grace. “It is not our way,” she writes at one point, quoting a Haitian folk tale, “to let our grief silence us.”

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