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#4617: Author Edwidge Danticat recreates a bloody chapter in Haitian history (fwd)


Author Edwidge Danticat recreates a bloody chapter in Haitian
Updated 12:00 PM ET July 13, 2000
  By Melissa Herb Colorado Daily  U. Colorado

     (U-WIRE) BOULDER, Colo. -- In 1937, nearly 20,000 Haitians living
in the  Dominican Republic were massacred on orders from Dominican
dictator Rafael  Trujillo. Trujillo wanted to cleanse his country of the
"dirty" Haitians, who would  either die or return across the river to
their country of origin. In her 1998 novel "The Farming of Bones,"
Haitian-American author Edwidge  Danticat describes this little-known
massacre through the eyes of one person, Amabelle Désir, a Haitian
servant in the home of a well-to-do Dominican family.  Amabelle, an
orphan who was taken in by the Dominican family after her parents
died attempting to cross the river from Haiti to the Dominican Republic,
at first refuses to believe that the Dominicans would perpetrate the
massacre and mass expulsion of which she hears her friends speak. But
when she witnesses a group  of soldiers rounding up her friends and
acquaintances, she has no choice but to believe the rumors and leave her
home to return to Haiti. Some literary critics have referred to the
Dominicans' treatment of the Haitians as "ethnic cleansing." But
Danticat, who was born in Haiti and immigrated to the United States when
she was 12 years old, said that she does not think that term is
 an accurate description of the 1937 massacre.  "I don't think I would
say ethnic cleansing, because it's putting in the pastsomething we've
created recently," she explained. "We tend to lump everything
  together. ... (But) each particular incident, each person, has their
own story."  The phrase "the farming of bones" refers to the work done
by many of the Haitians in the Dominican Republic; it means, basically,
"the cutting of sugarcane."  Sebastien, another of the novel's important
characters, is a sugarcane cutter -- and     Amabelle's lover. Were it
not for their love, "The Farming of Bones," rife with hate and violence,
might be too much to handle; it would be little more than a novel about
suffering and death.  Sebastien does not feel the same loyalty to the
Dominicans as Amabelle does; he tries again and again to persuade her to
return to Haiti. When he finally succeeds, though, he is rounded up by
soldiers and never reappears, not even when  Amabelle arrives in Haiti.
Amabelle is left only with memories of him, memories which she files
alongside those of her parents, whose bodies were never found.  But
despite Sebastien's disappearance, Danticat, whose work has been
nominated  for a National Book Award, said, "I think the book, in
addition to being about the  massacre, is a love story. ... It's a book
about love and a book about remembering."  Danticat, who will read from
"The Farming of Bones" at the Tattered Cover on Sept. 23, said filtering
such a momentous event as the 1937 massacre through one  voice was one
of the most challenging things about writing the book. So too was the
public's ignorance of the incident. "A lot of people weren't aware of
(the massacre), and I think also that was part of the challenge (of
writing the novel)," she said, explaining that she hopes those who learn
of the massacre from her work will go on to study and learn more about
the incident on their own. "The Farming of Bones," which took two years
to research, is very different from Danticat's first novel, the
semi-autobiographical "Breath, Eyes, Memory."  Still, she said, "writing
a novel, whether you're writing from history or drawing from personal
experience, the experience is really quite similar." For "The Farming of
Bones," Danticat spent a great deal of time "delving into the past
looking for details," which made writing historical fiction "more of a
stretch," she said.You have to imagine more," she explained.  If you go:
Edwidge Danticat will read from and sign "The Farming of Bones" at the
Tattered Cover Book Store (First Avenue and Milwaukee Street, Denver) on
Thursday at 7:30 p.m.