Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Sophie represents an interesting yet harsh aspect of the status of women that is seen in many cultures. Because she was a good student and was able to go to America, she is expected to be successful and do things that women in her family have never done before Yet, her worth and fate still depend on appealing to, marrying, and pleasing a man. Her mother is obsessed with the idea of virginity and "tests" Sophie to make sure that she is pure, just as she and her mother (Sophie's grandmother) were tested. Obtaining a "good" marriage with a "good" man indicates security and success more than anything that a woman might do for herself.
Danticat takes up some really heavy topics and themes in this novel: shame, hatred of black bodies, violence and self harm, gender roles, sex/sexuality/sexual assault, love, belonging, roots and tradition, folklore, cultural differences, identity, eating disorders, generational trauma, guilt and forgiveness, fear of abandonment. I related to a number of these themes, so I guess that's why it hit me so hard. I've read some pretty deep and disturbing literature in the past, but I don't think I've read anything that has made me contemplate Haitian culture and womanhood the way that Breath, Eyes, Memory has. Like I said, it's devastating. But it's the kind of work that I think anyone could benefit from reading at least once.
"They are the people of Creation. Strong, tall, and mighty people who can bear anything. Their Maker, she said, gives them the sky to carry because they are strong. These people do not know who they are, but if you see a lot of trouble in your life, it is because you were chosen to carry part of the sky on you head." (p. 25)
"Imagine our surprise when we found out we had limits." (p. 43)