Read Reading The Farming of Bones –

The Farming of Bones begins inin a village on the Dominican side of the river that separates the country from Haiti Amabelle Desir, Haitianborn and a faithful maidservant to the Dominican family that took her in when she was orphaned, and her lover Sebastien, an itinerant sugarcane cutter, decide they will marry and return to Haiti at the end of the cane season However, hostilities toward Haitian laborers find a vitriolic spokesman in the ultranationalist Generalissimo Trujillo who calls for an ethnic cleansing of his Spanishspeaking country As rumors of Haitian persecution become fact, as anxiety turns to terror, Amabelle and Sebastien's dreams are leveled to the most basic human desire: to endure Based on a littleknown historical event, this extraordinarily moving novel memorializes the forgotten victims of nationalist madness and the deeply felt passion and grief of its survivors

10 thoughts on “The Farming of Bones

  1. Samadrita Samadrita says:

    As much as there's solace to be derived from bestowing much needed attention on non-white-male authored narratives which speak of the ones snubbed callously by literature, on no grounds can poor story-telling be excused. As if page after page of oblique but trite commentary on ethnic conflict, colonialism, slavery and racism lathered on to the bare bones of a plot was not enough, Danticat makes the task of finding redeeming aspects even harder with her stilted, cardboard cutout characters whose continuing plight at the hands of plantation owners, corrupt lawmakers and the military men fails to evoke any empathy. Top it all off with a toneless, drab narrative voice with sporadic stretches of brilliance and what you have is a beautifully-titled novel which never lives up to the promise it shows in the beginning and ends up becoming mere misery porn.

  2. Cheryl Cheryl says:

    I looked to my dreams for softness, for a gentler embrace, for relief from the fear of mudslides and blood bubbling out of the riverbed, where it is said the dead add their tears to the river flow.

    It is not often one reads a story with death and loss as its theme and still find beauty in the melancholy. This harrowing story balances its sadness with love interludes. Sensuality appears through bursts of lyricism, spurts of softness within pointed language.

    Haitian lovers, Annabelle and Sebastien, find their worlds intertwined as they both try to make it in a new land; one a cane worker, the other a housekeeper. They sneak off to lemon-grass scented days and nights, each some form of solace for the other who has been forced to abandon family. Friends remain loyal to each other in a world where they are misunderstood. Within their community nicknamed Algeria, Haitian transplants settle in the Dominican Republic and try to make a living as cane workers. Sugarcane is a major product, as it is used to make the sugar for the popular cafecitos and dulce de leche.

    The cane life, travay tè pou zo, the farming of bones.

    This novel highlights the Haitian-Dominican conflict, the Parsley Massacre of 1937 that is rarely visited. Coexisting on the island of Hispaniola, there are deeply woven cultural and social differences between the two regions that have caused longstanding pain. It is an interesting read, scary even, particularly during a time when it is not just the third world but the western world that is currently being divided by social differences. Try to decipher what caused this uproar and you'll be left stunned at the ignorance of people.

    Sometimes, after loss, the survivor finds it difficult to live in the present, or perhaps go on as if he or she has forgotten his or her loved one. Sometimes the survivor finds it difficult to move on. The narrative flow is a reflection of this. Yet there remains a symbol hidden in some small act together, some routine to be remembered, and this becomes the silver lining for grief management. For Annabelle, it is the waterfall. I didn't care too much for Claire of the Sea Light, but I'm glad that Danticat won be back with the illuminating prose in this novel.

  3. Connie G Connie G says:

    Edwidge Danticat has written a work of literary fiction centered around the 1937 massacre of Haitians who were working in the Dominican Republic. This was done under the direction of the Dominican dictator Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo. The island of Hispaniola is divided by a river into two countries--the Dominican Republic which had been colonized by Spain, and Haiti which had a mix of people of French and African ancestry. Tensions ran strong between the two small Caribbean countries.

    The narrator is Amabelle Desir, a Haitian working as a maid in the Dominican Republic. Her parents had drowned when she was a child, and she was taken in by a Spanish Dominican family. Amabelle tells the story in chapters that alternate between actual events, and her troubling dreams and memories. She loves Sebastien, a Haitian worker in the cane fields, but he is captured by the Dominican soldiers during the massacre. Amabelle tries to return to Haiti with another group of people, and is seriously beaten. The story continues with Amabelle's life in Haiti, and her search to find Sebastien.

    The title, The Farming of Bones, comes from the sugar cane stalks which sound like chicken bones breaking. After the massacre of twenty thousand Haitians, it took on a new meaning as skeletons were found in mass graves and in the rivers.

    This was a beautifully written book with strong images, sensual language, and characters one could care about. It was heartbreaking to read about the genocide of the Haitian workers, but the book helps us to understand the conflicts that still remain in the Caribbean today.

  4. Zanna Zanna says:

    I know what will happen, he said. You tell the story, and then it's retold as they wish, written in words you do not understand, in a language that is theirs, and not yours.

    This is a story carried out of a genocide. It's fiction loaded down heavily with the kind of truth you wish you didn't have to believe - maybe that's why the lyrical sentences are so full of images of sinking, falling and opening, of spaces and flesh pressed, distorted, cut.

    There is nuance here. Our Haitian Black woman narrator is impromptu midwife to the White Dominican woman she serves, and the twins she delivers gather subtle and stark signs of racism & sexism around them in shapes of compromised love, complicated grief... I wanted to know what became of the children, and I know Danticat was making me feel with Amabelle there, while she was struggling with survival and through the primacy of other loyalties.

    If Danticat allows us to imagine that Amabelle's emotional ties are in tension across national and class boundaries, her focus is clearly on Amabelle's own reality and the lives of the sugar cane workers. This narrative belongs to a servant and worker class of Haitians; even though its sweep is broad and generous, class and national solidarities are at its core. Shared knowings and defiant, deep valuing of each other among Anabelle's people drive the cooperation that saves lives and the storytelling that saves memories.

    Danticat teaches that memories are a mixed blessing. Most of them, in this book, are painful. But the sweet ones, just as necessary, are a saving grace...

    Oh and as a love story, this is gorgeous.

  5. Layla Strohl Layla Strohl says:

    I bought this book from a guy on the street for a $1. It had no cover and no description except for a handwritten inscription which read, Ben, know I am your Amabelle and you my Sebastian. Here's to holding on tight in the middle of the night. I love you, Sarah.

    Being a complete sucker for open declarations of love, I bought the book.

    Farming for Bones is absolutely not at all the sappy love story I thought it would be. It is a beautifully written story that follows a group of Haitians through the genocide that took place during the Parsley Massacre in the late 1930's. Danticat's style, which is simple, clean and poetic, illustrates the chaos and fear of the characters without creating chaos on the page for the reader. It is as though, in order for Danticat to relay this story which is filled with fear, violence and death, she must maintain a calm, firm less emotional tone in her writing, as the events described need no additional touches for affect - they are grim and gruesome enough as is. The real tragedy is not just the mass genocide and torture that so many Haitians endured, but the emotional suffering and grief of the of the survivors to persevere, despite the many lost and missing family member and loved ones who never returned home.

    Thanks to Ben for tossing his heartfelt gift in the trash (and thanks to Sarah for a great inscription). I don't think I would have ever found this on my own and that would have been a shame because this book is is truly excellent!

  6. Jon Jon says:

    3 ½ stars. To give context to the story, I’m going to start this review with a brief history lesson: located in the Caribbean, the Hispaniola island is basically split in half, with the former French colony of Haiti on one side of the island and the former Spanish colony of the Dominican Republic on the other. During the 30’s, Rafael Trujillo came into power in the Dominican Republic, and, like so many other demagogues both before and after him, decided to demonize and scapegoat some of his country’s citizens (in this case, Haitian immigrants). From a speech he gave in 1937:

    “For some months, I have traveled and traversed the border in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, 'I will fix this.' And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Bánica. This remedy will continue.”

    From October 2, 1937 to October 8, 1937, government troops attempted to purge the country of Haitians in what became known as the Parsley Massacre. According to reports, Dominican soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley and ask their captives what it was. How they pronounced the Spanish word for parsley (perejil) determined whether they would live or die. Spanish speaking, native Dominicans would be able to pronounce the Spanish trill in the word, but French and Creole speaking Haitian immigrants would not be able to (and would be killed). Estimates vary on how many Haitians were slaughtered, with some estimates being as high as 20,000.

    The Farming of Bones is set during the Parsley Massacre and while this attempt to document the events that occurred is commendable, the book is not completely successful. The book is narrated by Amabelle Desir, a Haitian servant in an upper-class Dominican household and this first person narration is one of the weaknesses of the book. Frankly, Amabelle’s life and the events that occur around her in the first half of the book are mundane. Her Dominican employers treat her fairly and the class differences almost play out as a Dominican version of Downton Abbey. While there are a few established, well off Haitians, most of the Haitians in Amabelle’s orbit are either domestic servants or laborers in the cane fields. While poor, these Haitians do not experience overt prejudice nor are they subjected to brutal treatment. Beyond a few references to rumors and a few snatches of Trujillo’s speeches, there is little evidence of the societal tensions that would suddenly explode in an orgy of violence and genocide. I would have liked more explanation and foreshadowing in these early sections of the novel. By limiting events to only Amabelle’s perceptions and interactions a broader understanding of why things spiraled out of control so quickly is lost. The transition from domesticality to terror is too abrupt.

    Once the Parsley Massacre begins, the novel swiftly becomes a testament to man’s inhumanity to man as Amabelle and several others attempt to flee to the border and stumble across the death and destruction left in the wake of the genocidal purge. This section is tense and heartbreaking at times.

    While symbolism abounds in the book, Danticat’s prose style is clear and accessible. Her characterizations are good and Amabelle, in particular, comes across as a fully realized, three-dimensional person. The novel reduces a genocidal event to the experiences of a single person and while that may create a sense of intimacy and immediacy, it loses the deeper understanding that a broader view could have given.

    Still, the book is worth reading if only as a reminder of the power of demagoguery. It shows the effect that pandering to the fears, prejudices, and base instincts of a population can have. Know this: whenever someone stands in front of a microphone and attempts to cast some of those around us as “The Other”, they’re participating in an ugly tradition that stretches back through Rwanda, Auschwitz, the cane fields of the Dominican Republic, and beyond.

  7. Shannon Shannon says:

    I picked up this book at a vendor table while at the 2013 Harlem Book Fair . I had never heard of the author and the cover wasn’t particularly attractive but, after reading the back, I checked the price. I figured for $3, it was worth it. It was.

    I enjoyed this book from the beginning, but about half way through “the slaughter” begins and the book really takes off. Killings are described in graphic detail, but the story is written in a way that it’s not too much.

    All the characters find themselves faced with the most challenging decisions of their lives. How long would you wait for the love of your life to return if he or she went missing? What would it take for you to betray someone to whom you’ve always been loyal? How much could you take before your faith wavered?

    The last several chapters came together nicely and the conflicts of all the characters come to some sort of resolution. The end of the story truly felt like the end of the story. But it left me wanting more from Danticat. And when I finished my second book by her I knew I loved this author :-)

    Historical fiction books always make me go and do research to learn the facts about the actual event. The Haitian genocide on which the actual historical event that was central to the story.

  8. Jen Fordyce Jen Fordyce says:

    This one is keeping me awake at night. It is beautiful, even in anguish.


    Ok, I finished. While I was waiting to get on an airplane at 9 a.m. I was waiting in line and reading and crying and handing the airline man my boarding pass and crying and finding a seat between these two nice ladies and crying. It was so sad...but also lovely.

  9. Read By RodKelly Read By RodKelly says:

    I was not very impressed by my first Danticat novel at all. The Farming of Bones is written as a sort of romance, sort of historical fiction novel, sort of bildungsroman, and this hodge podge of indecision made for an incredibly dull reading experience. I was disappointed because the action swirls around the incredibly violent Parsley Massacre of 1937 in which tens of thousands of Haitians were slaughtered by Dominican troops and civilians on orders given by the dictator Rafael Trujillo (which is only vaguely explained in the novel.) Sounds like a heavy but ultimately gripping and rewarding narrative right....?

    Yah, didn't happen here...the difficult thing with historical fiction is that an author must skirt the line between imagined events and historical facts. The failure here is that the romantic story at the forefront is way too quaint and intimate (and honestly uninspired and a little writer's-workshoppy) for such a violent and expansive historical backdrop. Ultimately the elements of the story converge in a sloppy and unsatisfying way.

    All the real excitement of the novel happens in the background, which left me totally not caring about what happened to any of the characters (they don't even react to seeing people brutally murdered before their eyes; how??). This, added to the fact that sentence by sentence it lacks depth and is pretty poorly written in places. I kept comparing this novel to The Book of Night Women (reading later this month) which is a novel that puts the reader right into the devasting and brutal line of fire. Reading this just felt like being splashed with lukewarm water.

  10. Savvy Savvy says:

    Sad, but stunningly beautiful, FARMING OF THE BONES is a powerfully written evocative account of the horror of the genocide committed in 1937 against poor Haitian cane workers and others by the Dominican General Rafael Trujillo.

    Through the voice of a young orphaned Haitian woman, Amabelle Desir, we follow the lives of desperate Haitian exiles working the Dominican cane fields in deplorable conditions with paltry wages and sparse living conditions.

    Danticat is a master storyteller and her prose lifts and carries, even as the atrocities of what she is telling unfold on the page. She travels a very painful path with humbling grace. She allows the reader to witness grave injustices while keeping them safely wrapped in her beautiful and poignant prose.
    Dreaming... remembering...and family are strong elements which serve to enrich the story and draw the reader in as the reality of the despair becomes readily
    apparent. Trujillo wants to 'whiten' his populace and thus begins the recounting of an unimaginable and shocking ethnic cleansing.

    Towards the end of the novel, a man says Famous men never truly die... It is only those nameless and faceless who vanish like smoke in the early morning air. ...on the island which Haiti and The Dominican Republic share. Through the eyes of the narrator, Amabelle working as a maid in the Dominican Republic, we see scores of Haitians cruely massacred.
    None of those killed is anyone famous, nearly all the slaughtered are poor Haitians working as cheap labor in the neighboring country, but Amabelle's story serves to refute those words spoken about the nameless and faceless of the earth.

    In this book, they are remembered, and in her story they all have names and faces.