Edwidge Danticat writes with sophistication beyond her years and with an ethereal beauty. It is unbelievable to me that someone can produce works of such maturity and grace as “Breath, Eyes, Memory” and “the farming of bones” before the age of 30.
In “the farming of bones” Danticat takes her readers to the other side of her native island of Hispaniola, laying bare the oppression and desperation of Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic of the 1930s. Here she explores the trials of a servant class, the violence implicit to the work of migrant cane harvesters, and the pervasive trauma of refugees. Peopled by characters whose voices are all but snuffed out, this novel eloquently captures the human need for a voice.
“Taking turns, they exchanged tales quickly, the haste in their voices sometimes blurring the words, for greater than their desire to be heard was the hunger to tell. One could hear it in the fervor of the declarations, the obscenities shouted when something could
not be remembered fast enough, when a stutter allowed another speaker to race into his own account without the stutterer having completed his.”
These voiceless immigrants, too, face prejudice and exclusion that is frighteningly familiar to today’s political rhetoric.
“‘I pushed my son out of my body here, in this country,’ one woman said in a mix of Alegrian Kreyol and Spanish, the tangled language of those who aways stuttered as they spoke, caught as they were on the narrow ridge between two nearly native tongues. ‘My mother too pushed me out of her body here. Not me, not my son, not one of us has ever seen the other side of the border. Still they won’t put our birth papers in our palms so my son can have knowledge placed into his head by a proper educator in a proper school.”
But “the farming of bones” isn’t just a story of political turmoil and class struggle. It is a love story full of a passion that brings heat to the cheeks of the reader, not out of modesty or embarrassment, but out of empathy because of how exquisitely Danticat writes. The protagonist Amabelle feels an intense, once in a lifetime chemistry with her lover; “For some, passion is the gift of a ring in a church ceremony, the bearing of children as shared property. For me it was just a smile I couldn’t help, tugging at the sides of my face.” Her connection to Sebastian cuts to her core:
“I’m afraid to be shy, distant, and cold. I am afraid I cease to exist when he’s not there. I’m like one of those sea stones that sucks its colors inside and loses its translucence once it’s taken out into the sun, out of the froth of the waves. When he’s not there, I’m afraid I know no one and no one knows me.”
This work is a braid of timeless romance and (unfortunately) timeless struggle. It is, like her earlier work, a gift to breath, eyes, and memory. Danticat is a force to be reckoned with and hopefully one who continues to write for many years to come.