12 March 2009

Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. New York: Penguin, 1998.

A diasporic novel in line with Coetzee's Life and Times of Michael K and McCarthy's The Road. Which is to say, it follows people trying to escape turmoil, in this case Amabelle and other Haitian workers as they try to escape the Dominican Republic during the "Parsley massacre" of 1937—called such due to the shibboleth used by the Dominican soldiers to determine a person's heritage. (They'd hold up a sprig of parsley and ask, "What is this?" and if you answered in the Haitian Creole, you died.)

All this shit I had to Wikipedia, but it's there, in the book. Like, the book is a great historical account of the five days or so that the massacre lasted, and for this I have to give it a lot of credit. It's peculiar that Danticat selects such a narrow scope for his novel; Amabelle's our narrator, and so we see only her immediate world throughout the book, and thus any figures such as the Generalissimo or the Dominican army are shadowy figures relegated to the novel's margins. But then again, such is the experience of massacres/disasters from a victim's viewpoint. Danticat's novel isn't so much about the massacre itself as it is about the massacre's effect on people like Amabelle—people who for a time lived on two sides of a border, forced one day to choose one or the other.

The novel opens with the birth of twins (Amabelle works in the Dominican Republic as a midwife), and a car accident that has killed a Haitian cane worker. It still remains unclear what this accident is doing in the novel. The way it's presented, it seem like what's to come is a novel about two different communities clashing over this event. But once the massacre comes, decreed from on high, there's little time or interest in arguing over justice for the dead man's family. And nothing ever comes of it.

A struggle to get through. Very little going on on the sentence level. POV in straightforward delivery. I wouldn't recommend the book.


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