The Dew Breaker - Edwidge Danticat



The dew breaker is a quiet man, a husband and father, a hard-working barber, a kindly landlord to the men living in a basement apartment in his home. He is a fixture in his Brookly neighbourhood, recognizable by the terrifying scar on his face. But beneath the surface of this American existence lies a dangerous truth: the brutal crimes he committed in the country of his birth. 
As his story unfolds, we enter the lives of those around him. And in the Haiti of the dew breaker's past, we witness his last desperate act of violence, and his first encounter with the woman who will offer him a form of redemption - albeit imperfect - that will change him for ever...


Editions : Abacus, 2004
Language : English     Pages : 207




Today, I'm presenting a book I discovered already two years ago but that I've taken out recently for one of my university papers. I read it in English but here is the link to my french version of the review.

I prefer to say it rightaway, I've been shoked by this novel. For me it's a real crush  !

Edwidge Danticat structured her novel in a series of short stories centered on characters apparently totaly estranged to each other. But going on with the reading, links are forged and we discover that all the protagonists are related to the dew breaker, Bienaimé. So, each chapter brings its own part to the story of this character. 

With this building, the author plunges the reader in the destiny of those men and women who fled the horror of the haitian past, that is to say the dictatorship imposed by the Duvalier regime. Exiled to the USA, each of them tries to rebuild himself/herself a life and to overcome his/her trauma. Exiled himself too, Bienaimé is actually a previous officer and torturer at the service of the dictator. However, now reformed, he tries to rebuild himself a normal life too, away from violence. 


The character who moved me the most is Ka, the dew breaker's daughter. Paralysed by the horror of their past and the shame, her parents don't tell her anything about their homeland. This lack of information prevents her from building herself an identity. She feels as if she is in between two worlds (the USA where she was born and Haiti) and she is unable to define herself. To remedy this situation, she tries to understand her father, whom she thinks is a victim. Ka is an artist and she creates a sculpture representing her father in prison. This work upsets and overwhelms Bienaimé because it embodies the lie of his life while brutally mirroring his inability to free himself from the chains of his past. Through her art, Ka manages to change her father profoundly as he finally decides to face his past, rather than concealing it. So, Ka is a strong woman, who forces herself her way out in the world, without any help.


Edwidge Danticat brings out a current issue and she does it with finesse and franchise. By showing the destiny of a previous torturer, she underlines the fact that Duvalier's victims can also be found in his supporters. The haitian author also points out the fact that despite the long and hard work required by the overrunning of such a trauma, the next generation can be free of its destiny. 


Moreover, her pen doesn't lack poetry. I'm thinking in particular to the woman, who, after having escaped her torturer, exiles herself to become a birdal seamstress for her fellow countrywomen in the USA. After the horror of war, she wants to offer them dreams and love. It's a genuine message of hope


I strongly recommand this very honest and powerful novel, which makes you want to learn more about the Haitians' destiny. It's moved something in me and I've been through a large panel of emotions: horror, indignation, sadness, despair, empathy, determination and finally, hope...

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