Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

Author: Edwidge Danticat
Publisher-Format: Penguin (Non-Classics) Paperback, 312 pages
Year of publication 1999
Subject: Genocide of Haitians in Hispaniola
Setting: Border between Haiti and Dominican Republic
Genre: historical fiction
Source: Maine Humanities Council "Let's Read About It" book discussion series
Recommended? absolutely, but with warnings about graphic violence

This was the last book in our discussion series of women's stories we've been having at my local library.  I'm not sure I was looking forward to it, because I'd heard it was "heavy" "depressing" and "a downer".  After four previous reads of the trials and tribulations and degredation and humiliation of women in various cultures, I approached this one out of obligation (I'm the group facilitator) more than enthusiasm.

I'm so glad I read it.  Whle those adjectives I'd heard can certainly be applied, the book is also lyrical in its ability to describe unspeakable violence,  revealing in its historical detail, stimulating in pushing the reader to search out more about this time and epoch.  Seen through the eyes of a young Haitian orphan Amabelle Desir who was raised by a middle class Dominican family, and her lover Sebastian Onius, a Haitian who has come to the DR side of the island of Hispaniola seeking work in the cane fields (known as the farming of bones) we learn of the extreme racial tension between the Haitians, who speak a bastardized French knows as Kreyol, and the Dominicans who are of Spanish extraction and who also number among them many blacks of African descent.  This story dwells almost completely on the massacre of Haitians who were living and working in the Dominican Republic during the reign of Generalissimo Trujillo, and certainly leaves this reader hungry to find out more of the background and history of the peoples of this island.

The story of Amabelle's life before, during, and after the massacre is bone-chilling.  It is difficult to imagine how any woman could survive such violence.  Her inner strength seems to have come from her parents, who drowned crossing the river between the two countries, while she stood on the "wrong side" and watched it happen.  In her mind, as she replayed the story over and over again, she heard her parents' encouragement, felt their love, and knew that someday she too would float off in the river to join them.  In the meantime, she accepted her fate, used her inate talents, and became a trusted member of her adoptive family (although in a servant's role.)

It was a difficult book to read, but it was so well written that once I picked it up and began, I found it even more difficult to put down.  I finished it in less than a day.  Edwidge Danticat has given us a striking picture of a woman's strength of character, and inspired us to look more into history to see what the world can do to insure no other women (or their menfolk) have to endure such atrocities in the future.  It is not a book for the timid, nor is it a book for young readers, but by late high school, it is excellent reading for all who need to be exposed to the cruelty man has wreaked upon his fellow humans.

Many thanks to the Maine Humanities Council for making these books available to us.  The series definitely did what it was billed to do-- "Open the Windows" onto women's stories around the world.


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