Breath, Eyes, Memory
I picked up this book from Pune’s all year long Crazy Book Sale on JM Road on a sunny winter morning. I usually read books which are recommended by others, unless, of course, it’s a PG Wodehouse or a Michael Crichton.
The book immediately captivated my attention. A very simply put story of Sophie Caco and her journey from a small village in Haiti to New York and back. While Sophie is the protagonist, the story revolves around various women in her life – all of different ages and in very a different state of mind. A mother who does not stay with Sophie and she cannot relate to, an aunt who raised her but is unmarried and illiterate, a grand mother who is preparing for her own funeral and Sophie’s own infant daughter.
The story started at a time when 12 year old Sophie’s world was confined to her aunt, Tante Atie. Sophie lived by everything her aunt taught her. A woman who did not know much about the world outside, who had dedicated her life to bringing up Sophie.
“According to Tante Atie, each finger had a purpose. It was the way she had been taught to prepare herself to become a woman. Mothering. Boiling. Loving. Baking. Nursing. Frying. Healing. Washing. Ironing. Scrubbing. It wasn’t her fault, she said. Her ten fingers had been named for her even before she was born. Sometimes, she even wished she had six fingers on each hand so she could have two left for herself.”
Sophie was born out of a traumatizing rape in the fields, the shock of which her mother could never get over with. She moved to New York to make a living and send money home for Sophie and her own mother and sister. When she called for Sophie to New York, it was the end of everything that Sophie had ever known or lived by.
New York revealed to Sophie her woman hood. She was only 12 when she moved there. She got to know her mother better, became her support and helped her deal with her fears. And she later fell in love too. In the course of it all, she eventually severed her relationship with her mother.
The story then moves forward with how Sophie comes back to Haiti, her home, with her little daughter to be with those who raised her first. While Tante Atie has started reading, her life is now full of frustrations, with no direction or motivation.
Image source: theabundantmuse.blogspot.com
Soon, the story unfurls a whirlwind of emotions, another round of upheavals in the life of all the women. “I feel like my daughter is the only person in the world who will never leave me.” This statement of Sophie’s probably reminded her of the responsibility she bore towards her own mother and what her mother expected of her.
She went back to New York, only to return to Haiti again. And this time, it was the end of a lifetime of trauma for one of the women.
It’s a touching story by Edwidge Danticat, an easy read and a beautiful blend of emotions. It was also recommended by Oprah’s Book Club.