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VINE VOICEon 22 August 2006
Having enjoyed Ms Danticat's previous 2 books, I had to search for a while to find this one. It was worth the wait. While it differs from the others in that it is more a series of short stories than a novel, they are cleverly interwoven and beautifully written.

The term 'Dew Breaker' was the term used in Haiti during the period of dictator Francois Duvalier's regime, for the torturers who enforced his will upon the people. These Dew Breakers, also known as 'Macoutes', struck at first light as the dew was falling. Francois Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude, succeeded his father in 1971 and finally fled the country after a total of 29 years of Duvalier terror. The Macoutes were subsequently hunted down or escaped the country.

The book introduces a Dew Breaker who has made his home in New York, with his wife and talented daughter Ka (meaning good angel). A mild mannered man, he does nothing to draw attention to himself and lives a reclusive life, constantly in fear if being recognised. Even 30 years later he is still hiding from his past. Whilst he is ashamed to finally confess his true identity to his daughter, is he truly repentant for his actions? Would he have behaved differently if he were given his time again?

Meanwhile we meet a number of people whose lives were forever changed by the Macoute's work. These stories are profoundly moving, but also very cleverly connected, and the whole is a very well written view of both sides of the story.

Ms Danticat has improved with each of her books and I eagerly await her next. All her books are well worth reading.
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Author Danticat introduces her story of Haitian immigrants and the lives they have escaped in Haiti with the story of Ka, a young sculptress whose parents think of her as a "good angel," her name also associated symbolically with the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Ka is in Florida with her father to deliver a powerfully rendered sculpture to a Haitian TV actress. Ka's father, who served as the model for the sculpture, however, destroys it, confessing tearfully that he is not the man his daughter has always believed him to be, and admitting that the disfiguring scar on his face was not the result of torture in a Haitian prison. He was "the hunter," he says, and "not the prey," one of the "dew breakers," or torturers, who as part of the Tonton Macoutes, committed political assassinations and inflicted unimaginable tortures on orders of dictators Francois Duvalier and his son "Baby Doc" between 1957-86.
In a series of episodes which resemble short stories more than a novel in form, Danticat illuminates the lives of approximately a dozen Haitian immigrants as they remember this traumatic period "back home." As the "novel" alternates between past and present, it is told from disparate points of view--those of Ka's mother and father, a young man visiting Haiti after ten years to see his blinded aunt, a wedding seamstress in New York, a Haitian-American reporter investigating a possible "dew-breaker," a man remembering a Haitian friend's long-ago disappearance as he awaits his son's birth in New York, and a popular Haitian preacher whose arrest affects lives for many years.
The novel gains much of its power from the horrors of vividly described torture and the overwhelming fear engendered by the Tonton Macoute militia. By calling up such emotionally charged memories and presenting them in a series of episodes, the author can let the personal stories unfold without having to order events so that they lead to a grand climax. What distinguishes this "novel" from a short story collection, however, is the repeating motifs that appear throughout these seemingly separate episodes (a man's widow's peak, a woman's fear of cemeteries, for example), and by the end of the novel the connections among all the characters become obvious. A vivid documentation of many of the worst human rights abuses of the century, Danticat's novel is a moving testament to the Haitians' resilient spirit and a celebration of their survival. Mary Whipple
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 December 2009
Haiti has always struck me as a place with fascinating history, and since my grandparents lived there from 1967-69, I've been curious to learn more about that particular period. This slim novel, which deals at least partially with that era, seemed like a good way to get a taste of life under the repressive dictatorship of "Papa Doc" Duvalier. It opens with the story of a young woman who's just sold her first sculpture, a mahogany statue of her father. She's on her way to Florida with her father to deliver the piece to the wealthy actress who's purchased it. But this celebratory trip is derailed when the father reveals that the distinctive facial scar he got in prison in Haiti as a young man was not the result of being a prisoner. Rather, it was received from a prisoner when the father was one of the Tontons Macoute militiamen who terrorized the country during the Duvalier regime. The horrific revelation kicks off a series of chapters in which the legacy of that regime is examined through the eyes of a variety of Haitians, many of whose lives have been affected by the sculptor's father.

The term "chapters" actually isn't quite accurate -- the sections are really distinct short stories, all of which have links of varying directness to the father in the first story/section/chapter. Indeed, as I later found out, a number of them had been previously published as freestanding short stories. This structure makes for a kind of choppy narrative, as there are not only a revolving cast of characters, but shifts in time and location throughout. While this approach does allow the author to look at Haiti's past from a variety of perspectives, it can also be somewhat distracting, as the reader has to stop and work out the connections between the characters in various stories, which takes one out of the whole process of immersing oneself in the book.

And despite these various perspectives and a few descriptions of violence, I never quite felt that the book conveys the sheer nastiness and brutishness of the Duvalier regime. What's more present is the psychological element, the mental scars that last forever, on both the victim and the one committing the evil. One thing that's kind of nice about the book is that the father never makes any pretense that he somehow earn forgiveness or redemption for the evil he's done. Nor does the author attempt to "explain" what causes people to do evil -- the answer is simple, you give some people power and they will do evil. Remove the power and they will cease to do evil. It's a simple and tragic equation, but one that bears revisiting. In the end, the book was just too disjointed for me to really enjoy, but it's definitely worth checking out if you've got an interest in Haiti.
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VINE VOICEon 29 September 2012
The Dew Breaker could be viewed as nine short stories that all dance around both the "hunters" and the "hunted" of the brutal Haitian regime.

We open with an old man admitting to his daughter that he was one of the latter and therefore not worthy of her sympathy - before we are then treated to eight different voices and views of the same moment in history.

Each "story" is told remarkably well and Danticat does a sterling job of managing the emotions. With such a background it would be very easy for a less skilled author to overplay the sentiment. Thankfully she seems to understand that the weight of history is best represented by just telling the story simply - the reader is trusted to understand the subtleties of each moment.

The nine stories are all linked by little details that reward an attentive reader and Danticat has a style that makes you want to search for cross-references within the text.

Danticat is a writer who allows the story and the reader to breathe - while displaying an admirable emotional palette. Really top stuff.
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on 29 June 2005
This is my favorite Danticat book to date. I wasn't as much of a fan back in the days of Breath, Eyes, Memory. I thought in the case of that novel that her beautiful writing tried to disguise some leaps in the narrative. I thought she often left the story at just the most critical, difficult to write part and jumped forward, skipping over the hard stuff entirely. I thought, really, that she'd pulled the wool over the reading public's eyes by writing so beautifully we didn't notice the gaps. I'll have to go back and look at that one again to see if I still feel the same about it.
In any event, those flaws are not the case at all in this novel. Yes, there are connected stories that might have led to the same sort of problems. But Danticat has matured amazingly, which is really something considering the spotlight she's been under. She didn't HAVE to become a better writer cause she was already successful, but this proves that she set her sights high and reached them. The various stories inform each other while also standing distinct. She writes brutal material at times but with an understanding of the flawed humanity of all her characters - both the victim and the torturer. She asks questions about what sort of redemption is possible for past crimes. She deals with the hard stuff head on. She doesn't give easy answers, but that's the way it is with the best of writing. And this is some of America's best writing right now.
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on 24 February 2005
The Dew Breaker is a very educational book with unique contradictions in the characters in the story. This is a story about the haunting tale of a man who left Haiti for New York, and still could not leave behind his memory of victimizing. I enjoyed this book to the very end.
I recommend it along with DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE and DISGRACE
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