The Farming of Bones
by Edwidge Danticat
Fiction, Abacus PB, 312 pp., $23.00
Review rating: 5 stars *
In 1937, President Rafael Trujillo ordered the Army of the Dominican Republic to "cleanse" the republic of 20,000 Haitian migrant canefield workers. These forgotten corpses rise here like footless, footloose jumbies through carnival, nightmare, desire and bloodshed. Danticat sparks the miasma of methane rising from the burials to illuminate the killing field. The reality is far more horrifying than the image.
Danticat is an intoxicating writer. Born in Haiti but raised in the United States, she effortlessly sets up a cultural dialogue of French-speaking Haitians, Spanish-speaking Dominicanos, and the English language. Her writing may remind readers of Toni Morrison's in "Beloved." Beyond the ritual multicultural concert, however, Danticat unearths her chorus of the dead (that "farming of bones") so that the "nameless and faceless" will not "vanish like smoke into the early morning air."
In the most subtle ways, she makes her readers complicitous. She takes an incident that was merely political, hardly more than bureaucratic, and uses it as her staging area and backdrop to depict a human horror that becomes all the more stupefying for its violence. "Farming of Bones" is not for the squeamish; on the other hand, it is not for those who would enjoy Paradise unmindful of the hellish horrors visited upon our island neighbor of Hispaniola.
If there is a lesson in the redemption of the victims of this massacre, it is that Haiti did nothing, as if it didn't miss its own people. Danticat's novel is an indestructible monument, a kind of ice palace unmeltable in hell. The same can be said of Danticat herself, indelible in our hellish world of modern literature.
[Of some relevance to so important a Caribbean writer, Danticat appears in the Schleuters' new, expanded "Encyclopedia of British Women Writers" (Rutgers, 2000) but not in Lorna Sage's "Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English" (Cambridge University, 2000). In this reviewer's opinion, that constitutes criminal negligence on the part of Sage (not to mention her assistants in crime, Germaine Greer and Elaine Showalter). And while we're sentencing this crowd off to the political-correction penitentiary, Sage has the well-known Caribbean writer Abena Busia listed as "Abena Musia"!]
* Richard Dey rates the books he reviews for the Source on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. He defines the ratings thus:
5 stars Beyond serious criticism
4 stars A fine read
3 stars Good, fascinating, with caveats
2 stars Interesting or shows promise
1 star Cautionary tale
WRITER DANTICAT RAISES THE DEAD, DESERVEDLY
The Farming of Bones
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