Breath, Eyes, Memory

Breath, Eyes, Memory Study Guide

The novel Breath, Eyes, Memory was published in 1994 by the Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat. Her first novel, it became a bestseller almost immediately and won numerous awards. Critics almost unanimously praised Breath, Eyes, Memory. The New York Times Book Review stated, "Danticat's calm clarity of vision takes on the resonance of folk art... Extraordinarily successful,” while the Washington Post Book World deemed it "A novel that rewards the reader again and again with small but exquisite and unforgettable epiphanies." The novel became even more popular when it was featured as Oprah’s Reading Club selection in 1998.

The novel includes autobiographical elements from the author’s life. Danticat was born in Haiti but when she was just a little girl, her parents decided to move to America in search of a better life. Danticat remained behind in Haiti with her aunt and uncle until she was twelve years old and then moved to New York with her parents. There she received an education and did everything she could to adapt to a new culture. Danticat was able to experience life from both America and Haiti and included her experience and thoughts into her novel. She focused on presenting how hard it was for an immigrant child to adapt to a new culture and how this could end up affecting a person as she grows up. In fact, one of the major themes in the novel explores the process one must go through to adapt to a new culture and also how the customs and traditions one was accustomed to may negatively affect a person when that person is no longer in an environment where those customs are considered the norm.

Haitian religion, traditions, and family relationships are also analyzed in the novel. Danticat focuses primarily on the relationships between women and those who stay in Haiti and those who leave. The novel also depicts the method used by Haitian mothers to test their daughters’ virginity and analyzes how it impacts those who have been tested regularly.