This page strives to transform Edwidge Danticat’s literary work, Brother, I’m Dying, into an auditory work. We have found traumatic moments in the memoir, and have then tried to imagine what the audio surrounding the event would have been like. Each sound has a significant context, and we invite you to explore Brother, I’m Dying through this medium.
"'I'm really touched that you named her Mira,' he said, as I snapped another picture. 'Now even when I'm gone - and we can all say that, even those of us who are not sick - even when I'm gone, the name will stay behind...'" (Danticat 257).
Two themes that are predominant throughout the memoir is awareness of time and preservation for posterity. These ideas are illustrated through not only the constant juxtaposition of coughing and crying that can be viewed as symbols of death and birth, but also Edwidge’s naming of her daughter. Although the dominant narrative of the memoir is one of trauma and the fragility of life, we are reminded with the birth of Mira that life will ultimately prevail.
"Now he would be exiled finally in death. He would become part of the soil of a country that had not wanted him. This haunted my father more than anything else..." (Danticat 251).
Upon entering the United States, Joseph is faced with rejection and hardship in the form of Krome Detention Center. It is largely because of this mistreatment and brokenness of the immigration system that he ends up dying. Since he is not wanted in either his home country or this supposed “land of opportunity,” the sound of his New York grave being dug is one of rejection and seemingly eternal trauma.
"During the six months that he'd been visibly sick, my father had grown ashamed of his cough...he'd felt like a 'biblical leper,' the kind people feared might infect them with skin-ravaging microbes and other ills. So whenever he coughed, he covered his entire face with both his hands..." (Danticat 5).
(See description for ‘Baby Crying’)
"My uncle was now alien 27041999..." (Danticat 214).
Brother, I’m Dying is indeed a story about trauma told from the perspective of immigrants in need of a clean slate trying to make their way in the United States. As such, it is disheartening to see the dreams of those individuals crushed by an inhumane and broken immigration system. To the American government, Joseph was nothing more than a number, and when he died, he became nothing more to them than a statistic. The reality of the situation, however, is that the processes by which the government chooses who may be permitted to enter the country not only prevented Joseph from being a valuable member to society, but also traumatized those who cared for him.
“As her body swayed back and forth, her arms waving back and forth, she dropped her water-filled calabsh and it broke. My uncle offered to pay for the calabash. She insisted it was not necessary, but he talked her into taking a few pennies, a lot more than the calabash was worth. ‘So began a conversation between Denise and me,’ my uncle later told me. ‘Every time I went by afterwards on my way to the market, I had to see her.” (28)
This isn’t so much a sound of trauma, but a sound of hope and happiness. In this series of traumatic events, we thought it would be important to highlight sounds that contradict those of pain and trauma
“My father was dying and I was pregnant. I slipped to the floor and sobbed. I was afraid of losing my father and also struck with a different kind of fear: baby panic. Everything was suddenly mixed in my head and leading me to the darkest places. Would I carry to full term? Would there be complications? Would I die? Would the baby die? Would the baby and I both die? Would my father die before we died? Or would we all die at the same time?” (14)
For Edwidge, finding out about her pregnancy and her father’s failing health in one day is very stressful and turns the joyous occasion of pregnancy into one that causes her to worry and panic.
“Had she been shot? In the heart? She clutched her chest and fell to the floor. She never regained consciousness….no one could convince her of a simpler truth: that watching the bullets fly, the violence of her neighborhood, the rapid unraveling of her country, Marie Micheline had been frightened to death.” (135-137)
Marie Micheline hears gunshots fired from opposing military factions and her heart begins to race. She immediately runs over to the outside gate and soon after, passes away. Initially, we are lead to believe that she is shot and is killed; however, it is revealed later that she is frightened to death, as her body was unable to handle the stressful physiological symptoms that she experienced from the trauma in Bel Air.
"He wanted to go to the church, to see it, to defend it, to reclaim the altar...What he couldn't see was the pews and altar being dragging into the middle of the street and set on fire." (186)
The military troops were described as monsters without regard for anyone including women and children. Because everyone in Bel Air was afraid of the military, they hid in their homes while the troops walked from the church to the school burning everything in site. This abstract recording captures their burning of Joseph’s items from his church alongside the consequential burning of one of the women inside.
"On Sunday, October 24, 2004, nearly two months after he left New York, Uncle Joseph woke up to the clatter of gunfire. There were blasts from pistols, handguns, automatic weapons, whose thundering rounds sounded like rockets. It was the third of such military operations in Bel Air..." (170)
The shooting rampages went on for days, but what was most frightening about them was that they were so sporadic in terms of timing of day and duration. The military had the power to dictate when the town of Bel Air should be frightened, which illustrated the overarching power the military had over the lay people.
Edwidge’s Uncle lived in Bel Air during a period of high violence and civil unrest.
Bel-Air, within Port-au-Prince, experienced many protests similar to the following anti-government protest in Port-au-Prince. There would have been shooting, people screaming, and tires burning.
In 1991, Aristide was ousted by a military coup. In Bel Air, the people there, large supporters of Aristide, violently called for his return.
“Bel Air residents remained steadfast in calling for his return through protests and demonstrations. In retaliation, the army raided and torched houses and killed hundreds of my uncle’s neighbors” (139)
In 2004, the MINUSTAH were in control of the country. At this time, Bel Air was a launching point of political demonstrations in calling for the return of Aristide after he had been removed in February of 2004. Uncle Joseph experienced and witnessed much of this political unrest and even was forced to leave Haiti for fear of his life.
“During the odd minutes it took to reposition and reload weapons, you could hear rocks and bottles crashing on nearby roofs” (170)
“He heard something he hadn’t heard in some time: people were pounding on pots and pans and making clanking noises that rang throughout the entire neighborhood. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard it, of course. This kind of purposeful rattle was called bat teneb, or beating the darkness. His neighbors, most of them now dead, had tried to beat the darkness when Fignole had been toppled so many decades ago. A new generation had tried it again when Aristide had been removed both times. My uncle tried to imagine in each clang an act of protests, a cry for peace, to the Haitian riot police, to the United Nations soldiers, all of whom were supposed to be protecting them. But more often it seemed as if they were attacking them while going after the chimeres, or ghosts, as the gang members were commonly called” (172-73)
After Uncle Joseph’s church had been raided, he went to the police office in order to report the damage caused by others. There, he met nothing but frustration.
“Inside the building, the noise was deafening, the cries of complaints from the overcrowded holding cell, the police officers marching in, some of them still wearing balaclavas over their faces even while inside” (199).
As a politician, Edwidge’s cousin, Richard, also was faced with much of the protestation which was at times targeted against himself.
“A few weeks back he was coming home late one night when someone flagged down his car, ordered him to roll down the window and pressed a gun to his temple. He heard the slow clicking of the trigger and quickly identified himself.” (151)