Breath Eyes Memory is an eloquently written contemporary coming of age novel. In the nineteen eighties the protagonist Sophie Caco moves to Brookyn from Haiti to be united with her mother Martine and receive a good education.
Haiti, a former French colony located on the island of Hispanola where slaves worked the fields of profitable sugarcane plantations, received its independence officially in 1804. Many of its citizens have remained poverty stricken and the country has been controlled by dictatorships.
Sophie's family are poor working class people from Croix-des-Rosets, a country town outside of the Haitian capital of Port au Prince. Sophie has lived with her mother's sister Tante Atie after Martine, Sophie's mother, left Haiti after giving birth to Sophie as the result of an rape by an unknown assailant. Atie tells Sophie about witnessing the death of her father from overwork as a child, so that she will know her family. Martine sends money from Brooklyn to Haiti to help support her daughter and family. Sophie does not understand why she must leave Haiti. It is the only place that she knows and where she is going to, as far as she is concerned, is an unknown and alien place.
When Sophie moves from Haiti to Brooklyn her mother she observes the hard work of her mother. Martine works two jobs and rarely sleeps in order to pay for Sophie’s education at a private Haitian school. Sophie is traumatized and made suicidal by the intrusive act of testing by her mother. Testing is sticking a finger up the vagina in order to determine if the hymen is still intact. Women are held accountable for the sexual behavior of the daughters. As a result of the testing Sophie has problems having sex with her husband and suffers from bulemia.
Mother and daughter endure conflict with life and one another-together and apart. Sophie begins to make decisions that her mother disapproves of and Martine struggles with the mental pain unfairly inflicted on her through the rape that gave her Sophie. In the end, Sophie returns to Haiti to visit because she has decided it is still her home, no matter what has happened.
The prose is lyrical and honest. Reading the book, I felt that Sophie was telling me her life story as if she were speaking to a friend.
*********I stole a Newsweek (Jan, 25,2010) from my doctor's office because it contained pictures of the mass graves Haitians had to be buried in. The pictures give a more accurate record of the devastation in Haiti than clear, simple words.