Picks and Pans Review: The Dew Breaker

updated 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Edwidge Danticat

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Ka, your father was the hunter, he was not the prey." It is this surprise confession from a man to his grown daughter that sets Danticat's story into motion. Shifting back and forth in time, locale and perspective, Danticat reveals the story of a Haitian "dew breaker," a sanctioned torturer of dissidents under the regime of "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Why the nickname? He visits the soon-to-disappear just before dawn.

Though Danticat's protagonist now lives in Brooklyn as a quiet family man and barber, in the Haiti of the 1970s and early 1980s he had lived to kill. Proficient at inflicting pain, the man took pleasure in crushing bones with his boots or hanging blocks of concrete from a woman's breasts.

Haitian native Danticat's third novel is filled with quiet intensity and elegant, thought-provoking prose. She subtly weaves together the stories of multiple lives "plaiting into a braid as thick as the rainbows that are sometimes above our heads." Unfortunately, the book's any characters and varied points of view don't always meld into a whole and at times seem underdeveloped, even sketchy. It is telling that a number of the book's chapters first appeared separately in magazines and anthologies. Still, The Dew Breaker is an elegiac and powerful novel with a fresh presentation of evil and the healing potential of forgiveness.


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