Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States and The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Men and Women of All Colors and Cultures.
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Description for Reading Group Guide:
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of The Dew Breaker, the searing new book from Edwidge Danticat, award-winning author of Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!
Discussion question for Reading Group Guide:
1. Why does Danticat use a number of different narrators to tell the story? How do these shifting points of view affect the way the story is told? How do they affect the way readers absorb and understand the events described in the book?
2. Why does Danticat begin The Dew Breaker with Ka’s father’s confession and then return, near the end of the book, to the moment, some thirty years earlier, when he committed his last crime? Is this way of structuring the events of the story more powerful than a chronological telling would be?
3. Ka says that her father, “if anyone could, must have already understood that confessions do not lighten living hearts” (p. 33). Why would he understand this better than others? Why then does he confess his secret past to his daughter? What role does guilt—his own and that of others—play in this book?
4. For her sculpture of her father, Ka chooses “a piece of mahogany that was naturally flawed, with a few superficial cracks along what was now the back. I’d thought these cracks beautiful and had made no effort to polish them away, as they seemed like the wood’s own scars, like the one my father had on his face” (p. 7). What does this passage suggest about the differences between Ka and her father? In what ways has he tried to “polish away” his own scars?
5. What do the stories of Eric, Michael, Dany, Nadine, Beatrice, and Freda add to the book? In what ways are their lives intertwined with Ka’s father? What effect has the “dew breaker” had on them?
6. Claude tells Dany that he is “the luckiest fucker alive,” because in killing his father, he has “done something really bad that makes me want to live my life like a fucking angel now” (p. 119). Does The Dew Breaker seem to suggest that people can redeem themselves even after committing acts of horrific violence? How might this conversation affect Dany’s feelings about his landlord, the “dew breaker,” the man who killed his own mother and father?
7. Beatrice tells the reporter Aline, “Everything happens when it’s meant to happen” (p. 125). Can this axiom be applied to the book itself? Do things in the book happen when they are “meant” to happen? What significant events in the unfolding of the characters’ lives seem fated?
8. In what ways does The Dew Breaker, though a work of fiction, make the reality of life under the Duvalier dictatorship more vivid and emotionally charged than might a work of history or investigative journalism?
9. Some regard the preacher’s outspoken sermons against the Duvalier dictatorship as selfish. “Not all the church members agreed with the preacher’s political line. . . . Some would even tell you, ‘If the pastor continues like this, I leave the church. He should think about his life. He should thi“A serious-minded work of a mature talent, a searching examination of terror and its lingering aftershocks on generations . . . Gripping . . . Powerful.” –John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“[The Dew Breaker] never wavers in placing its attention on individual lives, and as [Danticat] moves from one character to another you feel she is holding their faces up to you . . . [An] accomplished novel.” –Jenny Shank, Rocky Mountain News
“[Danticat’s] prose is at once stately and riveting, echoing sincere grief for Haiti’s plight and capturing the intensity of violent times.” –Jeannette J. Lee, Associated Press
“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.” –Champ Clark, People
“[Danticat’s] writing . . . transcends its subject matter in moments of harsh poetry . . . Though Haiti’s violent history is rarely far from the surface of Danticat’s work, she also celebrates its vibrancy . . . there’s an intimacy to [her] writing.” –Associated Press
“Perfectly formed chapters written in prose that feels like blood moving slowly through veins . . . Startling.” –Joy Press, Village Voice
“With her grace and her imperishable humanity, her devotion to lives lived like ‘a pendulum between forgiveness and regret,’ [Danticat] . . . makes sadness beautiful.” –Daniel Asa Rose, The New York Observer
“The stories relate to one another like beautiful shards of a broken vase . . . Haunting . . . A flawless finale . . . [Danticat] is a master at capturing the inarticulate sorrow and bafflement that evil inspires.” –Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor
“[The Dew Breaker] delivers the pleasures of intricacy . . . Danticat has an emotional imagination capable of evoking empathy for both predator and prey.” –Troy Patterson, Entertainment Weekly
“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.” –Kate Washington, San Francisco Chronicle
“With characteristic lyricism and grace, Danticat probes the painful legacy of [Haiti's past] . . . [She] allows her deft, impressionistic strokes to evoke the many different lives shattered by each act of violence.” –Heather Hewett, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Stunning . . . Engrossing for its fine-tuned characterizations and evocative interactions . . . Vivid and memorable . . . Always shifting and always beautiful, the stories maintain a sense of mystery about what lies behind them.” –Johnette Rodriguez, The Providence Phoenix
“A compelling portrait of individuals untied against their will, even without their knowledge, by pain, trauma, and loss . . . A collection of perspectives that, together, give a snapshot of a community struggling to get out from under tragedy.” –Rick Massimo, Providence Journal
“Danticat’s prose . . . is lucid, precise from start to finish . . . A singular vision of what a novel is capable of achieving and the depths to which it can pull us.” –Kevin Rabalais, Times-Picayune
“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.” –Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today