The Farming of Bones

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9780140280494: The Farming of Bones

The Farming of Bones begins in 1937 in a village on the Dominican side of the river that separates the country from Haiti. Amabelle Desir, Haitian-born and a faithful maidservant to the Dominican family that took her in when she was orphaned, and her lover Sebastien, an itinerant sugarcane cutter, decide they will marry and return to Haiti at the end of the cane season. However, hostilities toward Haitian laborers find a vitriolic spokesman in the ultra-nationalist Generalissimo Trujillo who calls for an ethnic cleansing of his Spanish-speaking country. As rumors of Haitian persecution become fact, as anxiety turns to terror, Amabelle and Sebastien's dreams are leveled to the most basic human desire: to endure.

Based on a little-known historical event, this extraordinarily moving novel memorializes the forgotten victims of nationalist madness and the deeply felt passion and grief of its survivors.

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Review:

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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