Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Dew Breaker

First, my biggest disappointment with the book: it could have started better.
Much, much better. Apart from that, the book is very well written, even bordering on downright outstanding.

When I read the description on the back, that The Dew Breaker is a man who is repenting his sins of past, and with some background on Haiti's history with dictatorship and atrocities, I pretty much had an idea of what I was buying into.

And I was correct, no great surprises there. However, I cannot say that I knew it all along. The book made sure that I did not suspect a thing till it actually happened.

Edwidge Danticant is an excellent writer and with her Haitian background, she has successfully presented a picture of Haiti at its most oppressed and resilient moment together.

The narration, actually, is quite similar to the last book I read. It changes focus regularly from one person to another: starting rather abruptly with a semi-mysterious event, moving on as if indifferent to the original plot and then suddenly discovers its own tail by surprise and ties itself together. There are stories of love, tales of horror, accounts of selfless piety, confessions of rebellion, interviews with the borderline-insane and a cries of conflict. Apart from the content, the style of narration also shows some deviance, jumping from chapter form to diary form, to long monologues. The book is not written to be a page turner, but rather to be stopped and mulled over for a few moments. But not too long.

However, the underlying theme in this case, unlike for The Year of Silence, is not one event but the state of Haiti and Haitians as a whole. There are many loops which are complete in themselves and possibly can be full short stories if presented separately (perhaps they are, I haven't checked). I had to stop reading at one point in time when the description of certain tortures got too gruesome, but I think I would have found the book more wholesome if I had finished it in one sitting. I had to briefly go back over the book to make sure I hadn't missed any lingering threads, but after a quick cursory glance, I realized that this ambiance of other side-alley stories is something which was essential to the book, to set context for the main story, which is just one more story among other.

Now, about the rant: the character of the daughter of the Dew Breaker is not developed enough at the beginning. I did not  have enough background at the beginning of the book to see things as she was seeing them. Though later, I did realize that it was not essential for the book's message, but it made the beginning a little jarring. For example, when I read the following passage:

I hear echoes of my loud, derisive laugh only after I've been laughing for a while. It's the only weapon I have now, the only way I know to take revenge on my father.
'Don't do that,' he says, frowning, irritated almost shouting over my laughter. 'Why do that? If you are mad, let yourself be mad. Why do you always laugh like a clown when you are angry?'
I tend to wave my hands about wildly when I laugh, but I don't notice I'm doing that now until he reaches over to grab them. 

 I suddenly stopped and thought, "This is a very peculiar reaction, but am I being told about it rather discovering it from a character's mouth"?

May be it was only me, but it made me feel almost like hearing on a radio: "Oh! Look! He has a gun! .... Oh! He is pointing it at the shop-owner! ... (* bang *) ... Oh no! He has shot the owner! ..."

However, as the book progressed it grew on me and I become comfortable with her style of introducing the characters, and I did not notice it any more. In the end, it was a satisfying book.


No comments: