Do you like to cry? Do you like to be reminded about sadness, loss and the general unfairness of the world. Then boy! Do I have the book for you.
In the very first chapter we follow a daughter as she takes her dying father to the hospital, and then later in the living room at home when he gathers the family turns to his wife and asks “What would you like to happen after I am gone?” So there we are, not just in the pain of a daughter losing a father, but the two of them, lover and lover, losing each other after a lifetime together. I was exactly 18 pages into this book when I started crying.
“What I learned from my father and uncle, I learned out of sequence and in fragments. This is an attempt at cohesiveness, and at re-creating a few wondrous and terrible months when their lives and mine intersected in startling ways, forcing me to look forward and back at the same time. I am writing this only because they can’t.”
Viewing the trouble and strife of a country through the intimate lense of a family is nothing new, but Danticat’s autobiographical aspects works well. Brother, I’m dying is the story of two brother’s as told through the eyes of their daughter. Danticat was born on Haiti, but her father left to make a life in the U.S.A. leaving her with his brother, who chose to stay behind.
“It’s not easy to start over in a new place,’ he said. ‘Exile is not for everyone. Someone has to stay behind, to receive the letters and greet family members when they come back.”
Her uncle became like a second father till she was once again able to join her parents in the U.S.A. It is a touching story of the banality and smallness of life caught up in awful foreign policies.
The thread of death weaves quite closely through the book, most people are just introduced to, later, die.
“My father was dying and I was pregnant. Both struck me as impossibly unreal.”
However the book is also quite meandering, written for people with little knowledge of Haiti it covers, perhaps, a little too much in describing both the culture, the political upheaval, and actual people. The book is strongest towards the end where it picks up the thread again and looks at the two ways the brothers die after the way they spent their lives. Danticat definitely writes in a way that can make you weep, her words are light, but precise and they cut just where they need to.