We meet him late in life: a quiet man, a good father and husband, a fixture in his Brooklyn neighborhood, a landlord and barber with a terrifying scar across his face. As the book unfolds, moving seamlessly between Haiti in the 1960s and New York City today, we enter the lives of those around him, and learn that he has also kept a vital, dangerous secret. Edwidge Danticat’s brilliant exploration of the “dew breaker”--or torturer--s an unforgettable story of love, remorse, and hope; of personal and political rebellions; and of the compromises we make to move beyond the most intimate brushes with history. It firmly establishes her as one of America’s most essential writers.


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Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In her third novel, The Dew Breaker, the prolific Edwidge Danticat spins a series of related stories around a shadowy central figure, a Haitian immigrant to the U.S. who reveals to his artist daughter that he is not, as she believes, a prison escapee, but a former prison guard, skilled in torture and the other violent control methods of a brutal regime. "Your father was the hunter," he confesses, "he was not the prey." Into this brilliant opening, Danticat tucks the seeds of all that follows: the tales of the prison guard's victims, of their families, of those who recognize him decades later on the streets of New York, of those who never see him again, but are so haunted that they believe he's still pursuing them. (A dew breaker, we learn, is a government functionary who comes in the early morning to arrest someone or to burn a house down, breaking the dew on the grass that he crosses.) Although it is frustrating, sometimes, to let go of one narrative thread to follow another, The Dew Breaker is a beautifully constructed novel that spirals back to the reformed prison guard at the end, while holding unanswered the question of redemption. —Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

Haitian-born Danticat's third novel (after The Farming of Bones and Breath, Eyes, Memory) focuses on the lives affected by a "dew breaker," or torturer of Haitian dissidents under Duvalier's regime. Each chapter reveals the titular man from another viewpoint, including that of his grown daughter, who, on a trip she takes with him to Florida, learns the secret of his violent past and those of the Haitian boarders renting basement rooms in his Brooklyn home. This structure allows Danticat to move easily back and forth in time and place, from 1967 Haiti to present-day Florida, tracking diverse threads within the larger narrative. Some readers may think that what she gains in breadth she loses in depth; this is a slim book, and Danticat does not always stay in one character's mind long enough to fully convey the complexities she seeks. The chapters—most of which were published previously as stories, with the first three appearing in the New Yorker—can feel more like evocative snapshots than richly textured portraits. The slow accumulation of details pinpointing the past's effects on the present makes for powerful reading, however, and Danticat is a crafter of subtle, gorgeous sentences and scenes. As the novel circles around the dew breaker, moving toward final episodes in which, as a young man and already dreaming of escape to the U.S., he performs his terrible work, the impact on the reader hauntingly, ineluctably grows.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Three Haitian women living in New York drink to "the terrible days behind us and the uncertain days ahead," thus succinctly denoting the resonant theme of Danticat's beautifully lucid fourth work of fiction: the baffling legacy of violence and the unanswerable questions of exile. In compelling and richly imagined linked stories of the Haitian diaspora, the author of The Farming of the Bones (1999) portrays the children of parents who either perpetuated or suffered the cruelties of the island's bloody dictatorships, young women and men who struggle to make sense of the madness that poisoned their childhoods. The book's pivotal, and most riveting, sections portray a man who works for the state as a torturer, or "dew breaker," until a catastrophic encounter with a heroic preacher induces him to flee to New York, where his sculptor daughter finally learns of his past under caustically ironic circumstances. Danticat's masterful depiction of the emotional and spiritual reverberations of tyranny and displacement reveals the intricate mesh of relationships that defines every life, and the burden of traumatic inheritances: the crimes and tragedies that one generation barely survives, the next must reconcile. — Donna Seaman

“Courageous. . . . Beautiful. . . . The Dew Breaker is brilliant book, undoubtedly the best one yet by an enormously talented writer.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Ms. Danticat’s most persuasive, organic performance yet. . . . Each tale in The Dew Breaker could stand on its own as a beautifully made story, but they come together like jigsaw-puzzle pieces to create a picture of this man's terrible history and his and his victims' afterlife.” —The New York Times

“Filled with quiet intensity and elegant, thought-provoking prose. . . . An elegiac and powerful novel with a fresh presentation of evil and the healing potential of forgiveness.” - People

“Luminous. . . . This is a tale of crime and punishment in the great tradition of Dostoevsky.” —The Baltimore Sun

“A devastating story of love, delusion, and history.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Danticat’s gift is to combine both sympathy and clarity in a moral tangle that becomes as tight as a Haitian community.” —Time

“Breathtaking . . . With terrifying wit and flowered pungency, Edwidge Danticat has managed over the past 10 years to portray the torment of the Haitian people . . . In The Dew BreakerDanticat has written a Haitian truth: prisoners all, even the jailers.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Danticat [is] surely one of contemporary fiction’s most sensitive conveyors of hope’s bittersweet persistence in the midst of poverty and violence.” –The Miami Herald

“Thrillingly topical . . . [The Dew Breaker] shines. . . . Danticat leads her readers into the underworld. It’s furnished like home.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Stunning . . . Beautifully written fiction [that] seamlessly blend[s] the personal and political, [and] asks questions about shame and guilt, forgiveness and redemption, and the legacy of violence . . . haunting.” –USA Today “Fascinating. . . . Danticat is a fine and serious fiction writer who has slowly grown as an artist with each book she has written.” –TheChicago Tribune

“In its varied characters, its descriptive power and its tightly linked images and themes, [The Dew Breaker] is a rewarding and affecting read, rich with insights not just about Haiti but also about the human condition.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“[The Dew Breaker]is, most profoundly, about love’s healing powers. From its marvelous descriptions of place to the gentle opening up of characters, this is a book that engages the imagination.” –Elle

“With her grace and her imperishable humanity . . . [Danticat] makes sadness beautiful.” –The New York Observer

“Danticat has an emotional imagination capable of evoking empathy for both predator and prey.” –Entertainment Weekly

“With characteristic lyricism and grace, Danticat probes the painful legacy of a time when sons turned against their fathers, children were orphaned, and communities were torn apart.” –ThePhiladelphia Inquirer

“Delicate and poetic . . . Danticat [is] more than a storyteller, she’s a writer. . . . Her voice is like an X-Acto knife–precise, sharp and perfect for carving out small details.” –TheMinneapolis Star Tribune

“Filled with quiet intensity and elegant, thought-provoking prose . . . An elegiac and powerful novel with a fresh presentation of evil and the healing potential of forgiveness.” –People

“[Danticat] fuses the beauty and tragedy of her native land, a land her characters want to forget and remember all at once.” –Ebony

“In these stories Edwidge Danticat continues to speak eloquently for those who in losing their sorrowful homeland have lost their voices.” -The Boston Globe

“Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat presents simple truths…this, the novelist seems to be saying is how you understand; here is the primer for survival.” –TheAtlanta Journal-Constitution