Sunday, March 11, 2012

Review: The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

Rating: 4 Stars
Pages: 310
Genre: Historical Ficiton
Publication Date: September 1998
Source: Library

Synopsis (inside cover of book):
It is 1937, the Dominican side of the Haitian border.  Amabelle, orphaned at the age of eight when her parents drowned, is a maid to the young wife of an army colonel.  She has grown up in this household, a faithful servant.  Sebastien is a field hand, an itinerant sugarcane cutter.  They are Haitians, useful to the Dominicans but not really welcome.  There are rumors that in other towns Haitians are being persecuted, even killed.  But there are always rumors.
Amabelle loves Sebastien.  He is handsome despite the sugarcane scars on his face, his calloused hands.  She longs to become his wife and walk into their future.  Instead, terror enfolds them.  But the story does not end here: it beings. 
The farming of Bones is about love, fragility, barbarity, dignity, remembrance, and the only triumph possible for the persecuted: to endure.

This is the second book that I have read by Edwidge Danticat, the first one Brother, I'm Dying was a non-fiction work about her uncle and his life.  I enjoyed the first half of the book but the second half was just so-so.  Therefore, I had some reservation going into The Farming of Bones.

My reservations were unnecessary.  To put it simple, I read The Farming of Bones in one day.  The story was compelling, the characters engaging, and the writing was prefect.  Danticat had me hooked all the way through.  An added plus was that it is historical fiction, my favorite genre.

The Farming of Bones takes place during Rafael Trujillo reign of power in the Dominican Republic.  Personally, I know very little about the Dominican Republic and it history.  Most of what I know about this period I learned form The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, which I read back in 2009. The Farming of Bones, gave me another chance to learn about this moment in history and from the view point of a foreigner living in the Dominican Republic during the unrest.  I could help about shuffle through my memory every now and again to remember bits and pieces of Diaz's novel and what I learned there to apply to this one.  It was interesting to learn about the discrimination that Haitian workers experienced in the Dominican Republic, the history of the conflict between Haiti and the DR, as well the Massacre of 1937.  This information along with the characters, their backstories and Danticat's writing style combined lead to a real page turner.

I can't say that I liked one character more than another.  They were all so well developed and thought out.  The author could give you glimpses into the each characters background and what brought them to this moment in time.  This made me keep turning pages to find out more about them and what fate had in store for them.  The main character, Amabelle was the most flushed out (of course) and her story was heartbreaking at times (most of the time).  I found myself rooting for her and hoping that by the time I got to the last page she would finally find even a little bit of happiness and peace.  Her story did not end the way that I had hoped, but it felt right.  I didn't find myself second guessing, there was no "What?  Where did that come from?" moment.  Danticat's choices for Amabelle (or any of the characters) were very much in line with the way the story was going, no surprise illogical twist.

The writing style was amazing.  That is the only way that I can describe it.  One of my favorite passages:

Your mother was never as far from you as you supposed," she says.  "You were like my shadow.  Always fled when I came to you and only followed when I left you alone.  You will be well again, ma belle, Amabelle.  I know this to be true.  And how can you have ever doubted my love.?  You, my eternity."
I will say that for me the end was a little unsatisfying.  I felt that Danticat tried to wrap everything up with a bow.  The ending seemed a little rushed to me and did not as nicely together with the story as the rest of the parts.  In this case, there are somethings that I wish she had left me to wonder about.

Pros: History, Writing, Characters, Plot, Backstories
Cons: Ending

Overall Recommendation:

This is a must read.  Highly recommended, especially if you like historical fiction and want to learn something new.