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The Dew Breaker

Edwidge Danticat

The Dew Breaker

Author:Edwidge Danticat

By J. Bowers | Posted 4/7/2004

Just over a month has passed since the forced exit of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected leader--an event that rekindled the Caribbean nation's long history of unrest, and thrust Haiti back into the international spotlight. The media have kept us informed about Haiti's lawless climate, providing daily updates on armed rebel gangs, reporting on relief efforts in the country's poorest rural areas, and slowly revealing details about French and U.S. involvement in the alleged coup d'etat against Aristide.

The American media may feed us the news, clipped, accentless, and with a safe, impartial distance, but with her latest novel, The Dew Breaker, Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat gives us a sensual, human look at Haiti and its people, capturing the passionate, proud, and haunting culture behind the troubling headlines, and providing a window into the Haitian-American experience.

The Dew Breaker darts between modern-day New York City and 1960s Haiti, during the reign of corrupt dictator François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his deadly sunglasses-clad militia, the Tonton Macoutes. Told in time-jumping chapters that nonlinear readers might mistake for short stories, the novel loosely follows the life of the title character, a Haitian immigrant living in Brooklyn with his wife, daughter, and the memory of his former career as a member of the Tonton Macoutes, a "dew breaker" who abducted, tortured, and killed his victims "before dawn, as the dew was settling on the leaves." As individual stories unfold, readers are introduced to the dew breaker's family members, some of his victims, and their families, weaving a tapestry of lives that have been scarred both physically and emotionally by the terror of the Duvalier regime.

As in her earlier works, which include Breath, Eyes, Memory and the National Book Award-nominated Krik? Krak!, Danticat allows her flowing, dreamlike prose to carry the reader into an intensely visual, deeply felt portrait of Haitian culture. Like Danticat herself, The Dew Breaker pairs modern, urban American sensibilities with a keen understanding of her birth country's distinctive identity. First-time Danticat readers may find the novel's structure frustrating--as soon as one character and setting capture you, she delves into another equally arresting tale.

The Dew Breaker rewards those who are willing to sink under its spell, however. Within the novel's fragmented structure, there's a wealth of emotion, ghosts, and regrets, all rendered in the elegant, nearly flawless prose that has become Danticat's trademark, and has singled her out as one of Haiti's finest literary voices.

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