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. --Jean Lenihan
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From Publishers Weekly
The almost dreamlike pace of Danticat's second novel (Breath, Eyes, Memory, 1994) and the measured narration by the protagonist, Amabelle Desir, at first give no indication that this will be a story of furious violence and nearly unbearable loss. The setting, the Dominican Republic in 1937, when dictator Trujillo was beginning his policy of genocide, is a clue, however, to the events that Amabelle relates. She and her lover, Sebastien Onius, are Haitians who have crossed the border. Amabelle is a servant to a patrician family, while Sebastien endures the brutal conditions of work in the cane fields. The lovers each have poignant memories of parental deaths, and other deaths enter the narrative early, subtly presaging the slaughter that is to come. Haitians in the DR, always regarded as foreigners, are "an orphaned people, a group of vwayaje, wayfarers." When a military-led assault against them does erupt, it is a surprise, however, and as Amabelle barely survives a massacre by soldiers and an equally bloodthirsty civilian population, the narrative acquires the unflinching clarity of a documentary. In addition to illuminating a shameful, little known chapter of history, Danticat gives us fully realized characters who endure their lives with dignity, a sensuously atmospheric setting and a perfectly paced narrative written in prose that is lushly poetic and erotic, specifically detailed (the Haitians were betrayed by their inability to pronounce "parsley") and starkly realistic. While this novel is deeply sad, it is infused with Danticat's fierce need to bear witness, coupled with a knowledge that "life can be a strange gift" even when memory makes endurance a difficult task. 50,000 first printing; first serial to VLS; QPB selection; rights sold in U.K., Germany, Spain, Holland, Denmark and Finland; paperback rights to Penguin; author tour.Sept.)
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