NEA Big Read
Brother, I'm Dying

Brother, I'm Dying

by Edwidge Danticat

'It's not easy to start over in a new place,' he said. 'Exile is not for everyone. Someone has to stay behind, to receive the letters and greet family members when they come back.'

Introduction to the Book

Brother, I'm Dying, is the true-life story of Edwidge Danticat's father, Mira, and his brother, Joseph. Born in the Haitian countryside, both brothers move to the big city of Port-au-Prince to work and raise families. Many years later, after Edwidge's father marries and begins a family, he decides to immigrate to the United States, while her Uncle Joseph—a community leader and pastor—chooses to remain in Haiti with his congregation. Edwidge, only two years old at the time of her father's departure, is left in the care of her Uncle Joseph and his wife, Tante Denise. Joseph and Edwidge develop a close relationship over the next several years. Edwidge spends most of her free time with her uncle, and after he suffers severe damage to his vocal chords, she acts as his interpreter. audio clip Ten years later, Edwidge rejoins her parents in the U.S. and must adjust to an unfamiliar world in Brooklyn, where she struggles to balance her new life with memories of the vibrant home and beloved uncle she left behind in Haiti.

Now grown and living in Miami, Edwidge faces the impending death of her father and the birth of her first child. Meanwhile, audio clip political unrest and violence in Port-au-Prince heighten due to government and gang disputes, and Edwidge fears for the safety of her Uncle Joseph and his family. Fleeing for their lives, Uncle Joseph and his son Maxo seek safety in America and come face to face with the complications of the U.S. immigration system. Over the next 72 hours, Danticat's world is forever changed as her father's condition worsens and her uncle's whereabouts are unknown.

Additional Reading

  • The New York Times reviews Brother, I'm Dying, focusing on the life of Joseph Dantica and his attempt to seek temporary asylum in the United States.
  • The Washington Post reviews Brother, I'm Dying, focusing on the challenges of U.S. immigration and the tensions inherent in being torn between two countries and two families.

Major Characters in the Book

Old black and white photograph of three young children
Edwidge with Brother Bob and Cousin Nick (Courtesy of the Danticat family)

Snapshot of an older man at home
Joseph Dantica (Courtesy of the Danticat family)

Portrait of a young girl with two adults
Edwidge with uncle Joseph and Tante Denise (Courtesy of the Danticat family)

Faidherbe "Fedo" Boyer
Husband of Edwidge and father to their daughter, Mira.

Edwidge Danticat
Author of Brother, I'm Dying and the eldest child of Mira and Rose Danticat.

André "Mira" Danticat
audio clip Edwidge's father and a dedicated family man, Mira works in a factory and drives a gypsy cab to sponsor the immigration of his wife and two eldest children.

Maxo Dantica
The son of Joseph and Denise, Maxo spends time in the United States for college but later returns to Haiti. Maxo joins his father in the attempt to flee Haiti after a surge of political violence in Port-au-Prince.

Bob, Karl, and Kelly Danticat
Edwidge's three younger brothers. Karl and Kelly were born in New York City while Bob, like Edwidge, was born in Port-au-Prince.

Joseph Dantica
audio clip Edwidge's uncle and Mira's brother, Joseph abandons political dreams to become a pastor, opening a church and school.

Tante Denise
Wife to Joseph, Denise is a stern but dedicated guardian of the many children in her care and is known as a skilled seamstress and the best cook in the Bel Air neighborhood.

Granmè Melina
audio clip Illness and old age bring Granmè Melina and her folktale traditions from her village in Léogâne to the home of her daughter, Tante Denise.

Marie Micheline
Abandoned by her father, Marie grows up as the adored role model of the younger members of the Danticat household and spends her life in Port-au-Prince working in various medical clinics.

Tante Zi
Doting and playful sister of Mira and Joseph, Tante Zi is a resident of Port-au-Prince and owner of a stationery stand. Tante Zi assists Maxo and Joseph when they are threatened by neighborhood violence.

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