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9 Local Warehouse Literature- A to Z
25 Remote Warehouse Literature- General

The Farming of Bones

by

The Farming of Bones Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

1

 

His name is Sebastien Onius.

   He comes most nights to put an end to my nightmare, the

one I have all the time, of my parents drowning. While my

body is struggling against sleep, fighting itself to awaken, he

whispers for me to “lie still while I take you back.”

   “Back where?” I ask without feeling my lips moving.

   He says, “I will take you back into the cave across the river.”

   I lurch at him and stumble, trying to rise. He levels my balance

with the tips of his long but curled fingers, each of them

alive on its own as they crawl towards me. I grab his body,

my head barely reaching the center of his chest. He is lavishly

handsome by the dim light of my castor oil lamp, even though

the cane stalks have ripped apart most of the skin on his shiny

black face, leaving him with crisscrossed trails of furrowed

scars. His arms are as wide as one of my bare thighs. They are

steel, hardened by four years of sugarcane harvests.

   “Look at you,” he says, taking my face into one of his

spacious bowl-shaped hands, where the palms have lost their

lifelines to the machetes that cut the cane. “You are glowing

like a Christmas lantern, even with this skin that is the color

of driftwood ashes in the rain.”

    “Do not say those things to me,” I mumble, the shadows of

sleep fighting me still. “This type of talk makes me feel naked.”

   He runs his hand up and down my back. His rough callused

palms nip and chafe my skin, while the string of yellow

coffee beans on his bracelet rolls over and caresses the tender

places along my spine.

   “Take off your nightdress,” he suggests, “and be naked for

true. When you are uncovered, you will know that you are fully

awake and I can simply look at you and be happy.” Then he slips

across to the other side of the room and watches every movement

of flesh as I shed my clothes. He is in a corner, away from

the lamp, a shadowed place where he sees me better than I see

him. “It is good for you to learn and trust that I am near you

even when you can’t place the balls of your eyes on me,” he says.

   This makes me laugh and laugh loud, too loud for the middle

of the night. Now I am fully disrobed and fully awake. I

stumble quickly into his arms with my nightdress at my ankles.

Thin as he says I am, I am afraid to fold in two and disappear.

I’m afraid to be shy, distant, and cold. I am afraid I cease to

exist when he’s not there. I’m like one of those sea stones that

sucks its colors inside and loses its translucence once it’s taken

out into the sun, out of the froth of the waves. When he’s not

there, I’m afraid I know no one and no one knows me.

   “Your clothes cover more than your skin,” he says. “You

become this uniform they make for you. Now you are only

you, just the flesh.”

   It’s either be in a nightmare or be nowhere at all. Or otherwise

simply float inside these remembrances, grieving for who

I was, and even more for what I’ve become. But all this when

he’s not there.

    “Look at your perfect little face,” he says, “your perfect

little shape, your perfect little body, a woman child with deep

black skin, all the shades of black in you, what we see and

what we don’t see, the good and the bad.”

   He touches me like one brush of a single feather, perhaps

fearing, too, that I might vanish.

   “Everything in your face is as it should be,” he says, “your

nose where it should be.”

   “Oh, wi, it would have been sad,” I say, “if my nose had

been placed at the bottom of my feet.”

   This time he is the one who laughs. Up close, his laughter

crumples his face, his shoulders rise and fall in an uneven

rhythm. I’m never sure whether he is only laughing or also crying

at the same time, even though I have never seen him cry.

   I fall back asleep, draped over him. In the morning, before

the first lemongrass-scented ray of sunlight, he is gone. But I

can still feel his presence there, in the small square of my room.

I can smell his sweat, which is as thick as sugarcane juice when

he’s worked too much. I can still feel his lips, the eggplantviolet

gums that taste of greasy goat milk boiled to candied

sweetness with mustard-colored potatoes. I feel my cheeks rising

to his dense-as-toenails fingernails, the hollow beneath my

cheekbones, where the bracelet nicked me and left a perfectly

crescent-moon-shaped drop of dried blood. I feel the wet lines

in my back where his tongue gently traced the life-giving veins

to the chine, the faint handprints on my waist where he held on

too tight, perhaps during some moment when he felt me slipping.

And I can still count his breaths and how sometimes they

raced much faster than the beating of his heart.

   When I was a child, I used to spend hours playing with my

shadow, something that my father warned could give me

nightmares, nightmares like seeing voices twirl in a hurricane

of rainbow colors and hearing the odd shapes of things

rise up and speak to define themselves. Playing with my

shadow made me, an only child, feel less alone. Whenever I

had playmates, they were never quite real or present for me.

I considered them only replacements for my shadow. There

were many shadows, too, in the life I had beyond childhood.

At times Sebastien Onius guarded me from the shadows. At

other times he was one of them.

 

2

 

Births and deaths were my parents’ work. I never thought I

would help at a birth myself until the screams rang through

the valley that morning, one voice like a thousand glasses

breaking. I was sitting in the yard, on the grass, sewing the

last button on a new indigo-colored shirt I was making for

Sebastien when I heard. Dropping the sewing basket, I ran

through the house, to the señora’s bedroom.

   Señora Valencia was lying on her bed, her skin raining

sweat and the bottom part of her dress soaking in baby fluid.

   Her water had broken.

   As I lifted her legs to remove the sheets, Don Ignacio,

Señora Valencia’s father—we called him Papi—charged into

the room. Standing over her, he tugged at his butterfly-shaped

mustache with one age-mottled hand and patted her damp

forehead with the other.

   “¡Ay no!” the señora shouted through her clenched grinding

teeth. “It’s too soon. Not for two months yet.”

   Papi and I both took a few steps away when we saw the

blood-speckled flow streaming from between his daughter’s legs.

   “I will go fetch the doctor,” he said. His hidelike skin

instantly paled to the color of warm eggshells.

   As he rushed out the door, he shoved me back towards the

señora’s bed, as if to say with that abrupt gesture that the situation

being what it was, he had no other choice but to trust

his only child’s life to my inept hands.

   Thankfully, after Papi left, the señora was still for a

moment. Her pain seemed to have subsided a bit. Drowning

in the depths of the mattress, she took a few breaths of relief.

   We sat for a while with her fingers clinging to mine, like

when we were girls and we both slept in the same room.

Even though she was supposed to sleep in her own canopy

bed and I was to sleep on a smaller cot across from hers,

she would invite me onto her bed after her father had gone

to sleep and the two of us would jump up and down on

the mattress, play with our shadows, and pretend we were

four happy girls, forcing the housemaid—Juana—to come

in and threaten to wake Papi who would give us a deeper

desire for slumber with a spanking.

   “Amabelle, is the baby’s bed ready?” With her hand

still grasping mine, Señora Valencia glanced at the cradle,

squeezed between the louvered patio doors and her favorite

armoire deeply carved with giant orchids and hummingbirds

in flight.

   “Everything is prepared, Señora,” I said.

   Even though I wasn’t used to praying, I whispered a few

words to La Virgen de la Carmen that the doctor would come

before the señora was in agony again.

   “I want my husband.” The señora clamped her eyes shut,

quietly forcing the tears down her face.

   “We will send for him,” I said. “Tell me how your body

feels.”

   “The pain is less now, but when it comes on strong, it feels

like someone shoves a knife into my back.”

   The baby could be leaning on her back, I thought,

remembering one of my father’s favorite expressions when

he and my mother were gathering leaves to cram into rum

and firewater bottles before rushing off to a birthing. Without

remembering what those leaves were, I couldn’t lessen

the señora’s pain. Yes, there was plenty of rum and firewa -

ter in the house, but I didn’t want to leave her alone and go

to the pantry to fetch them. Anything could happen in my

absence, the worst of it being if a lady of her stature had to

push that child out alone, like a field hand suddenly feeling

her labor pains beneath a tent of cane.

   “Amabelle, I am not going to die, am I?” She was shouting

at the top of the soft murmuring voice she’d had since childhood,

panting with renewed distress between her words.

   We were alone in the house now. I had to calm her, to help

her, as she had always counted on me to do, as her father had

always counted on me to do.

   “Before this, the most pain I ever felt was when a wasp bit

the back of my hand and made it swell,” she declared.

   “This will pain you more, but not so much more,” I said.

   A soft breeze drifted in through the small gaps in the patio

doors. She reached for the mosquito netting tied above her

head, seized it, and twisted the cloth.

   Gooseflesh sprouted all over her arms. She grabbed my

wrist so tight that my fingers became numb. “If Doctor

Javier doesn’t come, you’ll have to be the one to do this for

me!” she yelled.

   I yanked my hands from hers and massaged her arms and

taut shoulders to help prepare her body for the birth. “Brace

yourself,” I said. “Save your strength for the baby.”

   “Virgencita!” she shouted at the ceiling as I dragged her

housedress above her head. “I’m going to think of nothing

but you, Virgencita, until this pain becomes a child.”

   “Let the air enter and leave your mouth freely,” I suggested.

I remembered my mother saying that it was important that

the women breathe normally if they wanted to feel less pain.

   “I feel a kind of vertigo,” she said, twitching like live flesh

on fire. Thrashing on the bed, she gulped desperate mouthfuls

of air, even though her face was swelling, the veins throbbing

like a drumbeat along her temples.

   “I will not have my baby like this,” she said, trying to pin

herself to a sunken spot in the middle of the bed. “I will not

permit anyone to walk in and see me bare, naked.”

   “Please, Señora, give this all your attention.”

   “At least you’ll cover my legs if they come?” She grabbed

her belly with both hands to greet another surge of pain.

   I felt the contents of my stomach rise and settle in the middle

of my chest when the baby’s head entered her canal. Still I

felt some relief, even though I know she did not. I told myself,

Now I can see a child will truly come of this agony; this is not

entirely impossible.

   In spite of my hopefulness, the baby stopped coming forward

and lay at the near end of her birth canal, as though

it had suddenly changed its mind and decided not to leave.

Numbed by the pain, the señora did not move, either.

   “Señora, it is time,” I said.

   “Time for what?” she asked, her small rounded teeth hammering

her lower lip.

    “It’s time to push out your child. I see the head. The hair is

dark and soft, in ringlets like yours.”

She pushed with all her might, like an ant trying to move a

tree. The head slipped down, filling my open hand.

   “Señora, this child will be yours,” I said to soothe her.

   “You will be its mother for the rest of your days. It will be

yours like watercress belongs to water and river lilies belong

to the river.”

   “Like I belonged to my mother,” she chimed in, catching

her breath.

   “Now you will know for yourself why they say children

are the prize of life.”

   “Be quick!” she commanded. “I want to see it. I want to

hold it. I want to know if it is a girl or a boy.”

   Her forehead creased with anticipation. She tightened

every muscle and propelled the child’s shoulders forward.

The infant’s body fell into my arms, covering my house

apron with blood.

   “You have a son.” I proudly raised the child from between

her legs and held him up so she could see.

   The umbilical cord stretched from inside her as I cradled

the boy child against my chest. I wiped him clean with an

embroidered towel that I’d cut and stitched myself soon after

I’d learned of the conception. I rapped twice on his bottom

but he did not cry. It was Señora Valencia who cried instead.

   “I always thought it would be a girl,” she said. “Every

Sunday when I came out of Mass, all the little boys would

crowd around my belly as though they were in love with her.”

   Like Señora Valencia, her son was coconut-cream colored,

his cheeks and forehead the blush pink of water lilies.

    “Is he handsome? Are all his fingers and toes there?” she

asked. “I don’t think I heard him cry.”

   “I thought I would leave it to you to strike him again.”

   I felt a sense of great accomplishment as I tore a white ribbon

from one of the cradle pillows, wrapped it around the

umbilical cord, then used one of the señora’s husband’s shaving

blades to sever the boy from his mother. Señora Valencia was

opening her arms to take him when a yell came. Not from him,

but from her. A pained squawk from the back of her throat.

   “It starts again!” she screamed.

   “What do you feel, Señora?”

   “The birth pains again.”

   “It is your baby’s old nest, forcing its way out,” I said,

remembering one of my mother’s favorite expressions. The

baby’s old nest took its time coming out. It was like another

child altogether. “You have to push once more to be certain it

all leaves you.”

   She pushed even harder than before. Another head of curly

black hair slid down between her legs, swimming out with the

afterbirth.

   I hurried to put her son down in the cradle and went back

to fetch the other child. I was feeling more experienced now.

Reaching in the same way, I pulled out the head. The tiny

shoulders emerged easily, then the scraggly legs.

   The firstborn wailed as I drew another infant from

between Señora Valencia’s thighs. A little girl gasped for

breath, a thin brown veil, like layers of spiderwebs, covering

her face. The umbilical cord had curled itself in a bloody

wreath around her neck, encircling every inch between her

chin and shoulders.

   Señora Valencia tore the caul from her daughter’s face with

her fingers. I used the blade to snip the umbilical cord from

around her neck and soon the little girl cried, falling into a

chorus with her brother.

   “It’s a curse, isn’t it?” the señora said, taking her daughter

into her arms. “A caul, and the umbilical cord too.”

   She gently blew her breath over her daughter’s closed eyes,

encouraging the child to open them. I took the little boy out

of the cradle now and brought him over to the bed to be near

his mother and sister. The two babies stopped crying when we

rubbed the soles of their feet together.

   Señora Valencia used the clean end of a bedsheet to wipe the

blood off her daughter’s skin. The girl appeared much smaller

than her twin, less than half his already small size. Even in her

mother’s arms, she lay on her side with her tiny legs pulled up

to her belly. Her skin was a deep bronze, between the colors

of nut shells and black salsify.

   Señora Valencia motioned for me to move even closer with

her son.

   “They differ in appearance.” She wanted another opinion.

   “Your son favors your cherimoya milk color,” I said.

   “And my daughter favors you,” she said. “My daughter

is a chameleon. She’s taken your color from the mere sight of

your face.”

   Her fingers still trembling, she made the sign of the holy

cross from her forehead down to the sweaty cave between

her swollen breasts. It was an especially hot morning. The

air was heavy with the scent of lemongrass and flame trees

losing their morning dew to the sun and with the smell of

all the blood the señora had lost to her children. I refastened

the closed patio doors, completely shutting out the outside

air.

   “Will you light a candle to La Virgencita, Amabelle? I

promised her I would do this after I gave birth.”

   I lit a white candle and set it on the layette chest beside the

cradle that had been the señora’s own as a child.

   “Do you think the children will love me?” she asked.

   “Don’t you already love them?”

   “I feel as if they’ve always been here.”

   “Do you know what you will name them?”

   “I think I’ll name my daughter Rosalinda Teresa to honor

my mother. I’ll leave it to my husband to name our son. Amabelle,

I’m so happy today. You and me. Look at what we have

done.”

   “It was you, Señora. You did this.”

   “How does my daughter look? How do you find my dusky

rose? Does she please you? Do they please you? She’s so small.

Take her, please, and let me hold my son now.”

   We exchanged children. For a moment Rosalinda seemed

to be floating between our hands, in danger of falling. I looked

into her tiny face, still streaked with her mother’s blood, and

I cradled her more tightly in my arms.

   “Amabelle do you think my daughter will always be the

color she is now?” Señora Valencia asked. “My poor love,

what if she’s mistaken for one of your people?”

Synopsis:

It is 1937 and Amabelle Désir, a young Haitian woman living in the Dominican Republic, has built herself a life as the servant and companion of the wife of a wealthy colonel. She and Sebastian, a cane worker, are deeply in love and plan to marry. But Amabelle's  world collapses when a wave of genocidal violence, driven by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, leads to the slaughter of Haitian workers. Amabelle and Sebastian are separated, and she desperately flees the tide of violence for a Haiti she barely remembers.

Already acknowledged as a classic, this harrowing story of love and survival—from one of the most important voices of her generation—is an unforgettable memorial to the victims of the Parsley Massacre and a testimony to the power of human memory.

Synopsis:

It is 1937, a dangerous year in the Dominican Republic, where Haitian laborers are useful, rather than welcome; tolerated, but not trusted. Amabelle, a young Haitian woman orphaned at the age of eight, is a faithful servant to the young wife of an army colonel, living in the household where the two women grew up together. Amabelle's lover Sebastien is an itinerant sugarcane cutter, a handsome man despite the scars on his face, the calluses on his hands.

There are rumors that in other towns Haitians are being persecuted, even killed, but there are always rumors. Amabelle longs to become Sebastien's wife, to return with him to Haiti at the end of the cane season and begin a new life. Instead, the nationalist madness erupts, and terror engulfs them.

A devastating and beautiful novel The Farming of Bones is about love, dignity, pain, and memory, and about that most basic of hopes when all other hope is lost: to endure.

About the Author

EDWIDGE DANTICAT is the author of numerous books, including Brother, I’m Dying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a National Book Award finalist; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; and The Dew Breaker, winner of the inaugural Story Prize. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and elsewhere. The Farming of Bones won an American Book Award for fiction in 1999.

Product Details

ISBN:
9781616953492
Author:
Danticat, Edwidge
Publisher:
Soho Press
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20130507
Binding:
Paperback
Language:
English
Dimensions:
8.18 x 5.55 x 0.93 in 0.64 lb

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Farming of Bones New Trade Paper
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Product details pages Soho Press - English 9781616953492 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , It is 1937 and Amabelle Désir, a young Haitian woman living in the Dominican Republic, has built herself a life as the servant and companion of the wife of a wealthy colonel. She and Sebastian, a cane worker, are deeply in love and plan to marry. But Amabelle's  world collapses when a wave of genocidal violence, driven by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, leads to the slaughter of Haitian workers. Amabelle and Sebastian are separated, and she desperately flees the tide of violence for a Haiti she barely remembers.

Already acknowledged as a classic, this harrowing story of love and survival—from one of the most important voices of her generation—is an unforgettable memorial to the victims of the Parsley Massacre and a testimony to the power of human memory.

"Synopsis" by , It is 1937, a dangerous year in the Dominican Republic, where Haitian laborers are useful, rather than welcome; tolerated, but not trusted. Amabelle, a young Haitian woman orphaned at the age of eight, is a faithful servant to the young wife of an army colonel, living in the household where the two women grew up together. Amabelle's lover Sebastien is an itinerant sugarcane cutter, a handsome man despite the scars on his face, the calluses on his hands.

There are rumors that in other towns Haitians are being persecuted, even killed, but there are always rumors. Amabelle longs to become Sebastien's wife, to return with him to Haiti at the end of the cane season and begin a new life. Instead, the nationalist madness erupts, and terror engulfs them.

A devastating and beautiful novel The Farming of Bones is about love, dignity, pain, and memory, and about that most basic of hopes when all other hope is lost: to endure.

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