“The Dew Breaker” is a Creole term for “torturer,” an allusion to those who would use violence to shatter morning peace. The dictatorships of François Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) were rife with oppression. Mercenaries known as macoutes roamed the streets; hired assassins took care of those who were too outspoken. This short story collection weaves together the lives of several Haitian immigrants in New York City, whose lives were affected by one particular “Dew Breaker.”
There are nine stories in this book; I found three especially good:
- Book of the Dead: a young woman and her father drive to Florida to deliver a sculpture to a famous Haitian-American actress. The young woman learns of her father’s secret past.
- Night Talkers: a young man returns to a Haitian mountain village to visit his elderly aunt. Dany and his Aunt Estina survived a fire that killed his parents and blinded Estina. Dany believes he has found the killer in New York. The way he shares the story with his aunt, and the events that follow, make for a very moving tale.
- The Dew Breaker: in the last story, we learn the torturer’s personal history and point of view. Danticat manages to portray the villain as human and almost a victim, without excusing his crimes. And there is some sense of hope when the man finds a way to break the cycle of violence.
While each story is well-written, the real power of The Dew Breaker is in the subtle connections that knit together characters and events. It requires focused reading; I frequently re-read passages from earlier stories to confirm the reappearance of a character. This is a case where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.