Now and Then, Then and Now

The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat

Reading Challenge: A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with

There are plenty of cultures out there I’m unfamiliar with. I don’t know a heck of a lot about Mongolia, for example, or Cote d’Ivoire, or Estonia. I also don’t claim to be an expert on countries with more name recognition in the U.S., such as Korea, or Venezuela, or Poland. Heck, sometimes large swaths of the U.S. confuse me (mostly the South). But I knew pretty early on that I wanted to read about Haiti. I have a very limited knowledge set about Haiti: I know people from there, have worked with patients and families with Haitian background. I know that centuries of racism have affected not only Haiti, but Haitians in the neighboring Dominican Republic. I know: slave rebellion. Duvalier. Earthquake. Also Hurricane Matthew, and P.S., here’s some information about donating in the wake of that devastation.

So as you can see, I don’t know that much about Haiti. I decided to read The Dew Breaker partly because it was the only Edwidge Danticat not on Oprah’s book list and that’s another item I have to find a book for. I was also intrigued by the plot.

This is a Good Book, the kind that’s got Literary Merit (but not in a pretentious way). The format threw me for a while: I got distracted trying to figure out who these people were and how they were connected to the father in the first story. By “The Book of Miracles” I was feeling slightly more comfortable, and the connection between that one and the subsequent “Night Talkers,” one of my favorites of the stories, was a little more obvious. My other favorite story was “The Funeral Singer;” unlike the slightly mythical quality of the rest of the book, the friendship between the three women felt utterly real.

This was a Good Book, for sure, and I’d recommend it for people who like Good Books. I read it quickly enough. The characters seemed real. But I didn’t love it. I blame the format, mostly: I don’t do well with short stories. As soon as I would get invested in a character, his or her story would end, and I’d be jumping right in with another stranger. But well-written, gosh, yes, and beautiful, and harrowing. And yes, you will learn things about Haiti that you didn’t know before.

Recommended pairing: Rum, the featured drink of choice in at least two of the stories.

 

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