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  • Oct 15, 2010
Brother, I'm Dying begins with a moral challenge. As the memoir progresses, the challenge reappears; it is woven into each story line as the author records events. In fact, Danticat's memoir reads as a complex folktale by utilizing this technique, offering a profound dilemma, an enigma. As the challenge intervenes throughout the stories that follow, it also works to establish the author's authorial narrative presence and justify the quilt-like structure of her memoir. The first sentence is crucial:

I found out I was pregnant the same day that my father's rapid weight loss and chronic shortness of breath were positively diagnosed as end-stage pulmonary fibrosis.

This contrary emotional state immediately causes a reader to pause, to consider what it is like to be caught between the joy of birth and the confusion of death. Furthermore, it introduces a twofold theme that allows Danticat to interweave her many paths, to broach subjects ranging from childhood emigration and the struggle of adapting to illness to changing familial roles, assimilation and cultural opposition without losing focus. Reflecting upon her family members—primarily her father, Mira, and her uncle, Joseph—Danticat is able to simultaneously, emblematically examine her own experience.

The author recalls instances in which each of the two men sacrifices himself for his family—for her. The men suffer prejudice and humiliation, illnesses and ill-will. Meanwhile, Danticat's narration moves fluently through time, providing readers a diverse scope of her family's response to adversity, by relying on each other.

She juxtaposes the competing ways she's learned to view death as a Haitian-born (and raised) American woman. Danticat struggles with the idea that her child's birth will take place on American soil, far from Haiti, her roots, her family's heritage. As her father's health declines, she recounts the change that has occurred in her outlook on the sacrifices he's made to offered her and her child.

Although there are numerous tragic tales in Danticat's memoir, it is easy for a reader to follow along, to not feel imposed pain. This is due to Danticat's ability to masterfully interweave and examine her ideas. She reflects upon death and the separation her family members endured. Yet, she also acts as a bridge to familial separation, by reflecting yet again, with different perspective. The widely praised narration Danticat utilizes begins with her dilemma, her feeling of loss and separation, only to reflect upon the cumulative impact of illness, instability, adaptation, defeat, perseverance, more defeat, and tradition: her family's ties. Family, therefore, becomes the narrator's tool of study into the meaning of loss, a symbol of her own emotional journey, as evidence in passages such as this one, which arrives at the end of the book.

What I really wanted to say was that the dead and the new life were already linked, through my blood, through me.

With this passage, the narrator makes clear that her role is that of the seeker, the link, the direct object, not the subject. Presto: Transcendence.

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Jen Knox ()
Ranked #624
Author of Musical Chairs and To Begin Again.      Jen Knox earned her MFA from Bennington's Writing Seminars and works as a fiction editor at Our Stories Literary Journal and a … more
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