The Farming of Bones

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9780140280494: The Farming of Bones

It is 1937, and Amabelle Desir is a young Haitian woman working as a maid for a wealthy family in the Dominican Republic, across the border from her homeland. The Republic, under the iron rule of the Generalissimo, treats the Haitians as second-class citizens, and although Amabelle feels a strong sense of loyalty to her employers, especially since her own parents drowned crossing the river from Haiti, racial tensions are heightened when Amabelle's boss accidentally kills a Haitian in a car accident. The accident is a catalyst for a systematic round-up of Haitians, ostensibly for repatriation but in fact a prelude to slaughter. Amabelle, caught up in the chaos and confusion, returns to Haiti after much hardship to make a new life, but is for years uncertain of the fate of her lover, Sebastian, and haunted by a nagging sense of guilt.

A powerful, fiercely economical and deceptively moving work, blending historical accuracy with lyrical brilliance.

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Review:

Orphaned narrator Amabelle Désir works as a housemaid for a powerful military man who becomes her enemy, and her best and only childhood friend Valencia--his wife. Amabelle is Haitian, working by force of necessity in the Dominican Republic, and in love with Sebastian Onius, a migrant Haitain "farmer of bones" (cane-cutter) and vanquisher of the nightmares that drag her into the land of the dead.

Cut off from her family and homeland by the river that forms the riven border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic ("Heaven--my heaven--is the veil of water that stands between my parents and me. To step across it and then come out is what makes me alive."), Amabelle's life condenses a metaphor for the incipient civil war between "two different peoples trying to share one tiny piece of land." Like all civil wars, this one begins in the family. Caught up in the bloody events of the Haitain Massacre of 1937, Amabelle is faced with the dilemma of choosing between a beloved friend whose people become her persecutors and a lover of her own nation who seeks to open her eyes to stark political realities. Language, Amabelle learns, is the key to these realities in a land where pronunciation of the name of a common herb marks a person out for murder, encapsulated by the story of the Dominican Generalissimo chasing a Haitian worker in the cane fields:

"The Generalissimo had him in plain sight and could have shot him in the parsley, but he did not because ... he had a realisation. Your people did not trill their r the way we do, or pronounce the jota. 'You can never hide as long as there is parsley nearby,' the Generalissimo is believed to have said. 'On this island, you walk too far and people speak a different language. Their own words reveal who belongs on what side.' "
Making a friend of language, Edwidge Danticat places herself on the side of the power of remembrance, at whose service she places her uncommon gift of writing poetic prose infused by exact and suspenseful storytelling. In The Farming of Bones Danticat returns to the land of her birth and retraces the lifelines of memory that have been rubbed away by decades of displacement. She reaps a harvest that offers history a fable of survival. -- Rachel Holmes

Review:

Extraordinary ( TIME OUT)

Danticat delicately tiptoes through bougainvillaea and butterflies into minefields of rape, mayhem, insanity, suicide, terror. ( Fay Weldon, MAIL ON SUNDAY)

A first novel of precocious maturity ( INDEPENDENT)

A writer of great force with still more potential ( INDEPENDENT)

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