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Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
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A-DewBreaker "Your father was the hunter," a Haitian immigrant in New York reveals to his American-born daughter, Ka, "he was not the prey." As a "dew breaker," he worked as a torturer for the Duvalier regime. These nine interrelated tales, which span 30 years from Haiti to New York, center on the dew breaker’s recollections as a prison guard in 1960s Haiti and the memories of his victims, their families, and those who meet him America. In "The Bridal Seamstress," a spinster recalls her refusal to go dancing with the dew breaker, which led to her arrest. "The Funeral Singer" features three scarred Haitian women who meet regularly on the Upper West side. All, including the reformed dew breaker, remain haunted by past atrocities. But can they begin life anew?
Knopf. 256 pages. $22.

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Danticat] is a master at creating community on the page, finding the casual ways that one life would naturally intersect with another. … The Dew Breaker is a brilliant book, undoubtedly the best one yet by an enormously talented writer." Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Boston Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Driven by an urgent intelligence and told in a clear, straightforward voice, these harrowing tales of human suffering deserve to stand alongside Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee’s classic novel about political persecution, Waiting for the Barbarians." Judith Wynn

NY Times 4 of 5 Stars
"As seamless as it is compelling, the novel recounts its harrowing tale in limpid, understated prose, using a looping structure of overlapping stories to tell the Dew Breaker’s story by indirection. [Each tale] could stand on its own as a beautifully made story, but they come together like jigsaw-puzzle pieces to create a picture of this man’s terrible history and his and his victims’ afterlife." Michiko Kakutani

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[Danticat] has written a Haitian truth: prisoners all, even the jailers. With neither forgiveness nor contempt, she sets it upon a fulcrum from where she’s had the courage and art to displace the world even as she is displaced by it." Richard Eder

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Danticat’s book raises the question of redemption: The man, the focus of so much pain, has done all he can to build a new life, a quiet life, and to love those around him. He’s paid for his past through a sad and friendless existence and a hidden identity. Will any penance ever be enough to erase a history of murder?" Monica Drake

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Although specific references to the Duvalier regime are few, by the book’s end we come to understand that every character in the novel is touched by the violence that underlies Haiti’s history. … Far from being didactic, it paints compelling portraits of family troubles ordinary and extraordinary…" Kate Washington

Philadelphia Inquirer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With characteristic lyricism and grace, Danticat probes the painful legacy of a time when sons turned against their fathers, children were orphaned, and communities were torn apart. … I was left wanting more: of the marriage between the Dew Breaker and his wife, whose lives are surrounded by years of silence and regret; and of the stories of some of the other characters, whose fragmentary tales don’t quite stand on their own." Heather Hewett

Critical Summary

How can one man redeem his life or repair his victims’ lives? Just how much penance is enough? The Haitian-born Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory and After the Dance) asks these questions in this short story collection, which features one man’s struggle to redress his past while his victims’ lives remain shattered by violence. Although the stories are highly personal, each shows the brutality of daily life in Haiti under the Duvalier regime. Critics agree that The Dew Breaker is beautifully, dispassionately written, with evocative, often bloody, images. The multiple perspectives add depth and complexity, showing how, in the end, each man, woman, and child was, at times, both a victim and victimizer.

Also by the Author

A-BreathEyesMemory.epsBreath, Eyes, Memory | Edwidge Danticat (1994): A 1998 Oprah Book Club selection. A heavy novel that has echoes in Danticat’s life – a 12-year-old girl abandoned by her mother leaves Haiti for New York City.