The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

The Farming of Bones presented in human terms the most violent act of genocide that occurred in the Western Hemisphere. The author chose the 1937 Parsley Massacre as the backdrop of this masterful work of historical fiction. A moving and disturbing work resulted.

The book told the tale of Amabelle Desir, a Haitian servant girl living in the Dominican Republic. The author chose to present the story from her protagonist’s point-of-view. Knowing her thoughts and feelings gave the narrative much more impact. My favorite passage included a unique combination of beauty and sorrow:

Playing with my shadow made me, an only child, feel less alone. Whenever I had playmates, they were never quite real or present for me. I considered them only replacements for my shadow. There were many shadows, too, in the life I had beyond childhood. At times Sebastian Onus (Amabelle’s love interest) guarded me from the shadows. At other times he was one of them. (Location 111)

Ms. Danticat included the most gripping death passage I’ve encountered. The following dialog occurred between Amabelle and Sebastian. The imagery made the section difficult to read. It did so while concretizing the scene very effectively.

“How did the hurricane find your father?” I end up saying. It is not the gentlest or most deft way to ask, but I believe it will help him speak.

He opens his mouth a few more times and moans.

“If you let yourself,” he says finally, “you can see it before your eyes, a boy carrying his dead father from the road, wobbling, swaying, stumbling under the weight. The boy with the wind in his ears and pieces of the tin roofs that opened the father’s throat blowing around him. The boy trying not to drop the father, not crying or screaming like you’d think, but praying that more of the father’s blood will stay in the father’s throat and not go into the muddy flood, going no one knows where. If you let yourself, you can see it before your eyes.” (Location 550)

More exceptional imagery animated another unpleasant event. It also showed great attention to historical detail.

…On the wall was pasted a seven-year-old calendar, from the year of the great hurricane that had plundered the whole island, a time when so many houses were flattened and so many people were killed that the Generalissimo himself had marched through the windswept streets of the Dominican capital and ordered that the corpses he encountered during his inspection be brought to the Plaza Columbina and torched in public bonfires that burned for days, filling the air with so much ash that everyone walked with their eyes streaming, their handkerchiefs pressed against their noses, and their parasols held close to their heads. (Location 704)

In addition to a gift for imagery, Ms. Danticat crafted a brilliant use of foreshadowing. Knowing what occurred later in the story made it even more impactful. After serving as a midwife at the birth of her employer’s daughter, Amabelle’s boss asked her a very troubling question.

“Amabelle do you think my daughter will always be the color she is now? Senora Valencia asked. “My poor love, what if she’s mistaken for one of your people?” (Location 238)

The Farming of Bones presented a difficult story to read. I applaud the author for drawing attention to an event unfamiliar to many people. I appreciated her articulate means of doing so. For works like this one, Ms. Danticat earned the 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

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