Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
Reviewed by Taylor Beach, Editor-in-Chief
For those of you who have never read Edwidge Danticat’s incredible prose there are a few things you should know about her that influence how she writes and what she writes about. Edwidge Danticat was born in the third world country of Haiti in 1969. She has spiritually beautiful and deep roots to her Haitian history which is often a major topic she writes about in almost all of her novels. She preserves her country’s history with words printed on a piece of paper—paper that is considered a luxurious resource to her illiterate Haitian people. Preserving her people’s history is so imperative to Edwidge Danticat and it shows in the quote from her novel The Farming of Bones that, “Famous men never truly die…It is only those nameless and faceless who vanish like smoke into the early morning air.”
I like to say that authors are superheroes and in this instance, Edwidge Danticat is a real life hero. Reading one of Edwidge Danticat’s novels, especially The Farming of Bones, made me want to go out and change the world—to be a hero myself. The effects of this novel, containing her pure and heart-felt lyrical prose that reflect the repercussions of humanity’s actions, are forces like none else. She has the power to change the ignorant and biased ways people think about and view other people who are different from them.
In Edwidge Danticat’s The Farming of Bones she is the master of tugging on heart-strings through her realistic metaphors that latch themselves onto human actions and relations toward one another that leave you haunted and questioning why human beings are so hateful to one another. One of those powerful metaphors is numerous scars left on a broken body. Sebastien, Amabelle’s lover, is filled with scars from the machetes used to chop sugar cane. These scars are memories that tell stories filled with struggle, misery, and sadness in a person’s life that is brought on by other human beings. Memory is a very special concept to Edwidge Danticat for its powerful abilities to keep memories so as not to make the same mistakes, to remember the way we felt so as to never feel that way again, and to remember the lives of others who were taking unjustly and way too soon.
Edwidge Danticat, in her novel, also tackled the genocide of Haitians in the Parsley Massacre orchestrated by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. The dehumanization of Haitians by the Dominicans was ghastly and ultimately made it easier on them to kill almost a whole race of people. One of her quotes in this novel that still haunts me to this day is when Amabelle Désir, the main character in The Farming of Bones, restates something her deceased father said many years ago: “Misery won’t touch you gentle. It always leaves its thumbprints on you; sometimes it leaves them for others to see, sometimes nobody but you to know of.” Her lyrical prose has you hanging on fiercely to every chilling sentence like this one.
The Farming of Bones is a tale about how a world you’ve built of semi-happiness can be ripped away at any moment. Amabelle falls in love with Sebastien and they have plans to marry until genocidal violence breaks out against all dark-skinned Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in an effort to ‘purify’ the Dominican Republic back to strictly one ‘superior’ race of people. Amabelle is forced to flee for her life back to a Haiti she barely remembers. Danticat preserves the memories of every Haitian who lost their life in the Parsley Massacre with The Farming of Bones as a memorial and a true testament to human memory and the power it contains.
One of my favorite things about Edwidge Danticat is that she flips the master narrative on its head, revealing the underlying story—the story that wasn’t written in all the history books. My World Literature professor explained in class as we read the novel that the master narrative, the main event, would be following the Dominican Republican guards to the Haiti and Dominican Republic border and watching how events panned out there. However, Danticat gets you to look at a Haitian servant like Amabelle and the relationships that bind her to the Haitian workers at the sugar cane factories and plantations that helped the Dominican Republic economy thrive. She shows how the Haitian people are repaid for their indentured servitude by being slaughtered in a genocide because they pronounced the word parsley (-perejil) differently than that of a Dominican.
I’ve been studying Edwidge Danticat’s work for many years in my college career and found that she bares her soul and truth effortlessly and it’s up to us to choose what to do with that kind of truth. At the end of The Farming of Bones, I also came to the realization that we take so many pleasures in life for granted—that someone else’s trash is another person’s treasure. Edwidge Danticat makes me humble and appreciative and it’s all because of her words in the books she writes that I absolutely adore reading.
Edwidge Danticat is the author a many books including, Brother, I’m Dying, Breath, Eyes, Memory, The Dew Breaker, and one of my favorites Krik? Krak!. All of these novels she has written are award-winning.
Danticat’s writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and other magazines.