1996 Haitian-born author Edwidge Danticat had been nominated for the National
Book Award for her collection Krik?
Krak!, had gained national recognition from Oprah's
Book Club for her novel Breath,
Eyes, Memory, and had even been named one of Granta's twenty "Best
Young American Novelists." This exceptional recognition was made even more
significant by the fact that Krik? Krak! and Breath, Eyes, Memory,
were her first collection and novel published and both before she turned
26. The Farming of Bones, a 1998 New York Times Notable Book,
is her homage to tens of thousands of Haitians who were slaughtered by their
Dominican neighbors under Trujillo's rule in 1937. Against this historical background,
Danticat stages the love story of Amabelle and Sebastien, two workers who are
separated during the panicked flight of Haitians from Dominican borders. In
the dreamlike manner characteristic of one who is profoundly damaged by tragedy
and left to reshape her life, Amabelle relates her story in slow, selective,
descriptive pieces. Danticat's sensually compelling and respectful treatment
of one of the 20th century's most overlooked atrocities both mourns and honors
the burden borne by the Haitian people, leaving behind an indelible memory of
loss and endurance. Malia, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In a 1930s Dominican Republic village, the scream of a woman in labor rings out like the shot heard around Hispaniola. Every detail of the birth scene--the balance of power between the middle-aged Señora and her Haitian maid, the babies' skin color, not to mention which child is to survive--reverberates throughout Edwidge Danticat's Farming of Bones
. In fact, rather than a celebration of fecundity, the unexpected double delivery gels into a metaphor for the military-sponsored mass murder of Haitian emigrants. As the Señora's doctor explains: "Many of us start out as twins in the belly and do away with the other."
But Danticat's powerful second novel is far from a currently modish victimization saga, and can hold its own with such modern classics as One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Color Purple. Its watchful narrator, the Señora's shy Haitian housemaid, describes herself as "one of those sea stones that sucks its colors inside and loses its translucence once it's taken out into the sun." An astute observer of human character, Amabelle Désir is also a conduit for the author's tart, poetic prose. Her lover, Sebastian, has "arms as wide as one of my bare thighs," while the Señora's complicit officer husband is "still shorter than the average man, even in his military boots."
The orphaned Amabelle comes to assume almost messianic proportions, but she is entirely fictional, as is the town of Alegría where the tale begins. The genocide and exodus, however, are factual. Indeed, the atrocities committed by Dominican president Rafael Trujillo's army back in 1937 rival those of Duvalier's Touton Macoutes. History has rendered Trujillo's carnage much less visible than Duvalier's, but no less painful. As Amabelle's father once told her, "Misery won't touch you gentle. It always leaves its thumbprints on you; sometimes it leaves them for others to see, sometimes for nobody but you to know of." Thanks to Danticat's stellar novel, the world will now know.
"Edwidge Danticat's strong and unique voice speaks in the language of hearts. She knows the dreams and hidden thoughts of her characters, and her readers. She takes us traveling down a river of blood. That river sings in our veins."
"Sensuously atmospheric...perfectly paced...lushly poetic and erotic...and starkly realistic." Publishers Weekly
It is 1937, the Dominican side of the Haitian border. Amabelle, orphaned at the age of eight when her parents drowned, is a maid to the young wife of an army colonel. She has grown up in this household, a faithful servant. Sebastien is a field hand, an itinerant sugarcane cutter. They are Haitians, useful to the Dominicans but not really welcome. There are rumors that in other towns Haitians are being persecuted, even killed. But there are always rumors.
Amabelle loves Sebastien. He is handsome despite the sugarcane scars on his face, his calloused hands. She longs to become his wife and walk into their future. Instead, terror enfolds them. But the story does not end here: it begins.
The Farming of the Bones is about love, fragility, barbarity, dignity, remembrance, and the only triumph possible for the persecuted: to endure.
About the Author
Edwidge Danticat was nominated for the National Book Award in 1995 for her story collection, Krik? Krak! Her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, was published to acclaim when she was twenty-five.