Monday, July 20, 2020

Getting Into Literature: My thoughts on The Book of The Dead

The Book of the Dead by Edwidge Danticat. 

Edwidge Danticat. Image from Wikipedia

Annie's father has lied to her her entire life. Her parents told her he was a prisoner of war, when in fact he was a guard. The theme of coming to realize that your parent isn’t who you always believed him or her to be is a huge adjustment, which is amplified by the fact that the narrator Annie, a Haitian sculptor, went from believing that her father was a victim to knowing that he was actually the tormentor. In not such a dramatic event, I do remember the first time I realized that my father was just a human being. As a child I had placed him on a very tall pedestal and when through an incident that showed me that he was wrong, I remember very well that feeling when I came home and looked at him again. In The Book of the Dead this realization is shown through a tactile object of a sculpture that Annie created that represented the prisoner that she believed her father had been. She bonded over it with the buyer of the sculpture who was also the daughter of a prisoner.
The sculpture also represented something to the father. It tangibly showed him the man his daughter believed him to be, which he knew was a lie. He felt ugly, which was why he would not allow pictures of himself either. He was too ugly. Even though in truth he had never been a prisoner, he was in actually a prisoner to his daughter not knowing the truth of who he really was.  Before Annie knows the truth there is a description of the sculpture: “a two-foot high mahogany figure of my father, naked, crouching on the floor, his back arched like the curve of a crescent moon, his downcast eyes fixed on his short stubby fingers and the wide palms of his hands.” After she knows the truth about what he did she looks at her father and describes: “If I were sculpting him, I would make him a praying mantis, crouching motionless, seeming to pray while waiting to strike.” 
The very first line of this story is also powerful. “My father is gone.” It at first seems that Annie is talking about how her father went missing for hours from the hotel room, but after he reveals the truth of his past, the father she believed him to be really is gone. This line and the theme also play into the title The Book of the Dead, not only for his love and allusions to Egyptian lore, which was something they shared, but the symbolic death of both the daughter and father. It is almost as though they changed places. By finally telling the truth, he was lighter and happier, freed from his prison, while the truth appeared to make Annie fall into her own prison of knowing who her father was and having to deal with it, even letting the lie lay between her and Gabrielle.  
The Book of the Dead is a thought-provoking story that we can all relate to even when we don't want to. 


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