Monday, October 22, 2007

Is it fall yet?

It has to be fall but it's 77 degrees! At least the leaves are beginning to turn.

I finished Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying. What I like most about this writer is that her style is so quiet. She is obviously very talented but she doesn't hit you over the head with it -- no pages and pages of navel gazing and fancy literary tricks. She is the anti-Jamaica Kincaid -- whom I absolutely love by the way. Anyway, this non-fiction work is wonderful -- and very timely, considering the current immigration debate. It's a story about family and country -- two of my favorite themes. Danticat does an excellent job of making the characters flesh and blood -- you remember their names, you can almost see their faces through the pages. They're real people, of course, so that makes it easier to sympathize with them. The story is set in New York and Haiti and traces the divergent paths of two brothers. One decides to stay and live amid the turmoil in Haiti and the other builds a quiet life in New York. It's not a surprise ending so I can say that both brothers die -- both in the United States. What happens in between makes the ending even more tragic. I believed so much in Uncle Joseph and his single-minded determination to serve as protector of his community. To me, he represented a hope that is so lacking in a lot of poor countries today. It's like we believe that the only way our lives are going to improve is if we leave and never look back.

It's a reality most immigrants have to face -- stay and try to "make things better" at home or leave for a "better life." Danticat's Uncle Joseph is a pillar of his community, willing to stake his life and his health because he believes Haiti will become a whole nation. I get the sense that Danticat's father had long ago abandoned his idealism and embraced the pragmatic, seeking the opportunities the US offered him and his children. The story doesn't resolve the question and I don't think that was the intent. Who can say what the right choice is anyway? What the book does resolve for me is that no matter where you are -- Haiti or the United States -- the right mix of politics, bureaucracy and racism can kill you. It's a sad world we live in.

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