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The Farming of Bones Paperback – September 1, 1999
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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 --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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.)
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
Top customer reviews
Danticat writes one of the most lovely portrayals of the dynamics between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share an island and have engaged in conflict since before the independence of Haiti. The author is able to paint a picture that does not seem to me to take sides, but simply states the reality of what happened through the fictional lives of the characters. I am interested in the way that the relationships between the Haitians and Dominicans are not always strained, and sometimes are extremely close, but those relationships are challenged in the middle of the political strains.
I highly recommend this book for those who appreciate good historical fiction, and those who are interested in Haiti and relations in the Caribbean, as well as those interested in literary contributions from the minority and immigrant populations of the U.S.
The narrative was a real downer. I had a certain admiration for the narrator, in that she grimly soldiered on toward the grim end. It may be that there was more in the novel than I found. I look forward to what others have to say.
Through the voice of a young orphaned Haitian woman, Amabelle Desir, we follow the lives of desperate Haitian exiles working the Dominican cane fields in deplorable conditions with paltry wages and sparse living conditions.
Danticat is a master storyteller and her prose lifts and carries, even as the atrocities of what she is telling unfold on the page. She travels a very painful path with humbling grace. She allows the reader to witness grave injustices while keeping them safely wrapped in her beautiful and poignant prose.
Dreaming... remembering...and family are strong elements which serve to enrich the story and draw the reader in as the reality of the despair becomes readily
apparent. Trujillo wants to 'whiten' his populace and thus begins the recounting of an unimaginable and shocking ethnic cleansing.
Towards the end of the novel, a man says "Famous men never truly die... It is only those nameless and faceless who vanish like smoke in the early morning air." ...on the island which Haiti and The Dominican Republic share. Through the eyes of the narrator, Amabelle working as a maid in the Dominican Republic, we see scores of Haitians cruely massacred.
None of those killed is anyone famous, nearly all the slaughtered are poor Haitians working as cheap labor in the neighboring country, but Amabelle's story serves to refute those words spoken about the nameless and faceless of the earth.
In this book, they are remembered, and in her story they do have names and faces.