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The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

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Transcript of The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

The Farming of Bones
by Edwidge Danticat
“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously... Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.”
Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat
(1969 - present)
Haiti - The US

Other Books


Breath, Eyes, Memory
(novel, 1994)
Krik? Krak!
(stories, 1996)
The Farming of Bones
(novel, 1998)
The Dew Breaker
Brother, I'm Dying
(memoir/social criticism, 2007)
Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work
(essay collection, 2010)
Claire of the Sea Light
(novel, 2013)
The New York Times pronounced her one of 30 artists under 30 "likely to change the culture for the next 30 years"
1994 Fiction Award The Caribbean Writer
1995 Woman of Achievement Award, Barnard College
1999 American Book Award for
The Farming of Bones

The International Flaiano Prize for literature
The Super Flaiano Prize for
The Farming of Bones

Subject Matter
The Farming of Bones
is the story of Amabelle Dèsir, a young Haitian woman, who lives in the Dominican Republic and who is separated from her beloved at the beginning of the 1937 massacre. This is when Amabelle’s journey to Haiti begins, searching for news of her love and escaping from the Generalissimo’s commands.

The Farming of Bones
is a
historiographic metafiction

in which the
post-colonial narrator
Amabelle Dèsir rewrites part of Haitian History through the use of
, emphasizing Anti-Haitianism as a way of

De-centred narrator
"Historiographic metafiction shows fiction to be historically conditioned and history to be discursively structured..." (Hutcheon, 1988:120)
Key concepts
Multiplicity of truths
Re-writing of history
Connection between History and Literature
De-centred narrators
Metafictional devices
Multiple endings (open)
Dislocated chronology
Amabelle Dèsir
Black (Haitian)
Linguistic elements
"In confidence to you, Metrès Dlo,
Mother of the Rivers
Amabelle Dèsir" (p. 3)
Multiple voices
Multiple truths
"Perhaps there was no story that could truly satisfy. I myself didn't know if that story was true or even possible, but as the señora had said, there are many stories. And mine too is only one." (p. 339)
Joel's death
Papi's life
"You 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." (p. 274)
The arrest in the church
Finding Amabelle
The results of the massacre
Yves' father's death
"He [Pico] did not scold her, but once he discovered that she had used their imported orchid-patterned tea set, he took the set out to the yard and, launching them against the cement walls of the house latrines, he shattered the cups and soucers, one by one." (p. 130)
"'Amabelle do you think my daughter will always be the color she is now?' Señora Valencia asked. 'My poor love, what if she's mistaken for one of your people?'" (p. 18)
"Juana was in the old sewing room of Señora Valencia's mother, piling blankets on the floor to sleep on. Besides her stood a four poster canopy bed that Papi had built long ago for his wife's afternoon siestas." (p. 50)
"'Your people killed Joel rushing home to their twin babies, didn't they?' Mimi asked. 'I hear this is how it happened." (p. 73)
"I knew he considered Joel lucky to no longer be part of the cane life, travay tè pou zo, the farming of bones." (p. 65)

"The Cap was still an old new city when we returned to it, a city burnt to the ground many times for its own salvation. These were tales that all local children knew, for proof was sometimes found buried in their land: a gold coin, a silver saucer, which the ground would vomit up when it rained, like the bones of those laid to rest without caskets in shallow ground." (p. 243)

"When you know you're going to die, you try to be near the bones of your own people." (p. 270)
"'Did you hear that they attacked an innocent man with an automobile and threw his corpse into a ravine?' Unèl asked." (p. 81)
"'Don Ignacio wishes to talk to you of Joel's accident.'
'I don't know if it was an accident, Amabelle. He was not one to die so easy, my son.'" (p. 120)
"'I have finally heard of a man dying,' he [Papi] said, when he was done with the water. 'Don Carlos himself told me that one of his men died some days ago. But there are so many who work for Don Carlos, he did not know the name of the man who died.'" (p. 95)
"'Señor Pico shouted at the men and blew the klaxon,' Luis continued. 'Two of the men ran off. The other didn't seem to hear the horn. The automobile struck him and went flying into the ravine. He yelled when the automobile hit him, but when we came out to look, he was gone..." (p.47)
"'You've had a colorful life,' Beatriz said to Papi.
'What do you know of my life?' Papi sipped his tea as he waited for her reply.
'I know what Valencia has told me,' she said.
'Valencia knows only what I tell her, and for an adoring child a foothill can seem like a mountain if her father's painting the picture.'" (p. 88)
"'I told Papi I wanted to see the Massacre River where the French buccaneers were killed by the Spaniards in my history lesson.
We went to the river and there you were, a bony little girl with bleeding knees. You were sitting on a big rock, watching the water as if you were waiting for an apparition. Papi paid one of the boys by the riverside to interpret for him while he asked you who you belonged to. And you pointed to your chest and said, yourself. Do you remember?'" (p. 103)
"'Amabelle, I was so joyful when Papi said I could bring you to live with us,' she said. 'After my mother died, I was desperate for someone my age to come live with us in this house.'" (p. 105)
"'Amabelle, Pico merely followed the orders he was given,' she said, releasing my hand. 'I have pondered this so very often. He was told to go and arrest some people who were plotting against the Generalissimo at the church that night, then he was detained by those people who were on the road, that young man Unèl, the one who once rebuilt the latrines for us.'" (p. 334)
"I spoke to many people who said they watched when she [Amabelle] was killed in La Romana, with some others who were hiding in a house by the sea. Pico told me for certain that she must have been killed." (p. 327)
"I had been told that he could help me find someone who could take me across the
edwidge danticat
." (p. 317)
"'Famous men never truly die,' he [the guide] added. 'It is only those nameless and faceless who vanish like smoke into the early morning air.'" (p. 312)
Man Rapadou: "Many people who were against the Yankis being here were going to die because of his betrayal. And so I cooked his favourite foods for him and filled them with flour-fine glass and rat poison. I poisoned him." (p. 308)
"Maybe this is why I'd never let the rumors engage me. If they were true, it was something I could neither change nor control." (p. 162)
"'Calmate, hombre,' mumbled the Dominican. He was black like the nun who came to re-dress his wounds. He'd been mistaken for one of us and had received a machete blow across the back of his neck for it." (p. 242)
"I [Amabelle] coughed and sprayed the chewed parsley on the ground, feeling a foot pound on the middle of my back. Someone threw a first-sized rock, which bruised my lip and left cheek. My face hit the ground." (p. 215)
"I stayed out of the view while they [two soldiers] bragged to Mercedes and her sons about what had taken place at the church, telling them that their friends had arrested two recreants - Father Romain and Father Vargas - and many peasants, and of how the priests had pleaded to be brought to the same fortaleza as the peasants who had been arrested outside the church. (...) 'You should have been there to see it,' one of the soldiers argued. 'They cried like new widows, those priests.' "(p. 175)
"Sebastien went with Mimi to the chapel, " he [Kongo] said. They went there to meet you. Others tell me that army trucks came and took them away." (p. 177)
English, Spanish and Kreyol: heterogeneity.
Untranslated words and code-switching : distinctiveness
"'I hear Sebastien was arrested at the church', Felice said,'Mimi too.'
'They carried the doctor off with all those people who were to cross the border with him', the old woman said. 'The priests they took alone in a separate automobile. The priests begged the soldiers to let them stay with the people. The soldiers wouldn't lend them. One of the priests was crying." (p. 181)
"So far as I could see, everything was as usual, nothing had been moved or pushed aside. It was as if no one had ever entered the church at all; the Mass had never started, the people had never gathered." (p. 175)
"'Yves, did you
them take Mimi and Sebastien?' I [Amabelle] asked.
'I saw many taken,' he said, dropping his face." (p. 182)
"'Ay, pobrecita manman mwen.' My poor mother." (p. 31)
"'Where is the man you're promised too? Was he taken?' the woman consoling the crying one asked.
'So I was told,' I [Amabelle] said." (p. 195)
" ...walking kot a kot with him..." (p. 159)

"...the non-vwayaje Haitians, the ones who were better off than the cane cutters but not as wealthy as Don Gilbert and Doña Sabine and their friends, the rich Haitians." (p. 78)

"To them we are always foreigners, even if our granmèmès granmèmès were born in this country." (p. 79)

"'Don't you think I [Yves] have seen him [Father Romain], the poor bekeke?' 'Please don't call him that,' I said." (p.292)
Denounces colonization - POLITICAL
Gives voice to minorities
Uses language as a tool of subversion
"A young man came here to see me some days past. (...) He said he saw my children killed, in a courtyard..." (p. 268)
"Poor Kongo. Condolences, Kongo." (p. 58)

"'Condolences,' I [Amabelle] said. 'I am sad for the death of Joel.'" (p. 119)
"Jephthah called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, "Let me cross over," the men of Gilead asked him, "Are you an Ephraimite?". If he replied, "No," they said, "All right, say '
'" If he said "Sibboleth," because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-thousand -were killed at the time." (p. 2)
Yemoja / Yemanja
: African Goddess of the Ocean and the patron deity of pregnant women.
"My father reaches into the current and sprinkles his face with the water, as if to salute the
spirit of the river
and request permission to enter. My mother crosses herself three times and looks up at the sky before she climbs on my father's back." (p. 60)
"I begin to think inside the dream that it is Sebastien who always brings her here, that she is the hidden image of some jealous woman or the revenant of some dead love he carries with him into my arms." (p. 147)

"Land is something you care about only when you have heirs. All my heirs would be like my ancestors: revenants, shadows, ghosts." (p. 310)
corn ear (Hebrew)
word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups.
"in-group" word or phrase that can be used to distinguish members of a group from outsiders – even when not used by a hostile other group
Parsley - Pesi - Perejil
"[the señora] Your people did not trill the
the way we do, or pronounce the jota. 'You can never hide as long as there is parsley nearby,' the Generalissimo is believed to have said. On this island, you walk too far and people speak a different language. Their own words reveal who belongs on what side." (p.339)
"Many had heard rumors of groups of Haitians being killed in the night because they could not manage to trill their 'r' and utter a throaty 'j' to ask for parsley, to say perejil." (p. 127)
The author
The Parsley massacre
2 October 1937 to
8 October 1937
El Corte
Number of deaths
The Generalissimo
Papa Vincent
The citadel
Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina
Sténio Vincent
Henri Cristophe
Citadelle Laferrière
1891 - 1961
1874 – 1959
His speech
"El Corte - the cutting - was an easy word to say. Just as on our side of the river many called it a kout kouto, a stabbing, like a single knife wound." (p. 333)
"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 inBánica. This remedy will continue.”
2 October 1937
Turtis, Richard Lee (2002). "A World Destroyed, A Nation Imposed: The 1937 Haitian Massacre in the Dominican Republic"
"Earlier he [the Generalissimo] had given a speech to the crowd, restating that the Dominican Republic's problems with Haitians would soon be solved." (p. 210)
"'Tell me, why don't our people go to war because of this?' Yves seemed to be asking this as much of himself as of them. 'Why won't our president fight?" (p. 220)
"[unknown speaker] In all this, our so-called president says nothing, our Papa Vincent - our poet - he says nothing at all to this affront to the children of Dessalines, the children of Toussaint, the children of Henry; he shouts nothing across this river of our blood." (p. 237)
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and Haitian president Sténio Vincent sought
of $750,000, of which the Dominican government paid $525,000 (US$ 8,612,673.61 in 2014 dollars). Of this
30 dollars per victim
, survivors received only
2 cents each
, due to corruption in the Haitian bureaucracy.
p.41 - Bell, Madison Smartt (July 17, 2008). New York Review of Books 55
"I looked over Papi's shoulder as he wrote ceremoniously in his best script the time and place of the births, noting that it was on
the thirtieth of August, the year 1937
, the ninety-third year of independence, in the seventh year of independence, in the seventh year of the era of the Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, Supreme Commander-in-Chief, President of the Republic." (p. 23)
"Two of the river boys grab me [Amabelle] and drag me by my armpits away from the river. Their faces seem blurred and faraway through the falling rain. They pin me down to the ground until I become still." (p. 61)
"His voice was clear yet distant, as though he [Yves] were reciting a rote school lesson for the hundredth time. 'Papa, don't die on that plate of food. Please let me take it away.'" (p. 144)
"'His mother liked to say that his father died over a plate of food,' Sebastien replied in a weird voice. 'The father was put in a bread-and-water prison by the Yankis and let go after thirty days. First thing done by the mother is to cook him all the rich food he dreamt about in prison. The father eats until he falls over with his face in the plate and he's dead.'" (p. 144) Retold by Man Rapadou (p. 249)
"A man who had taken a bullet in the stomach told how he had run for half a day, not realizing he'd been shot." (p. 234)
"'Your father saw me at the side of the Massacre River,' I said. 'Your father, he asked one of the children by the riverside to question me in Kreyol, asking who I belonged to, and I answered that I belonged to myself.'" (p. 329)
"Another man spoke of how he was hiding behind a tree when a group soldiers stormed a horse farm. They were so angry not to have found any Haitians there that they shot all the horses." (p. 234)
"'I was there in Santiago,' a voice shouted from the other side of the room, 'when they shut seven hundred...'" (p. 234)
"'Sometimes I cannot believe that this one island produces two such different people,' Father Romain continued like badly wound machine. 'We, as Dominicans, must have our separate traditions and our own ways of living. If not, in less than three generations, we will all be Haitians.'" (p. 290)
No known formally documented first-hand witness accounts
Said to be a myth
“I think Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when it’s at its extreme. And that’s what they end up knowing about it.”

Edwidge Danticat
Estimates range from 547 to 25,000.
Not a single mass grave has ever been found
"There was no mistaking the stench rising towards us. It was the smell of blood sizzling, of flesh melting to the last bone, a bonfire of corpses, like the one the Generalissimo had ordered at the Plaza Colombina to avoid the spreading of disease among the living after the last great hurricane." (p. 201)
"The next man who spoke had been struck with a machete on the shoulder and left for dead. When he awoke the next morning, he found himself in a pit surrounded by corpses." (p. 235)
"'I hear there are officials of the state, justices of the peace, who listen to those who survived the slaughter and write their stories down,' he [Yves] said. 'The Generalissimo has not said that he caused the killing, but he agreed to give money to affected persons.' (...) 'And the dead?' 'They pay their families,' he said." (p.257)
"'I don't know if you'll be given the money,' he [Yves] said. 'The authorities might try to keep it all for themselves. They ask you to bring papers. They ask you to bring proof.'" (p. 257)
"The giant citadel, Henry I's treasure, was leaning down towards the city from inside a wreath of sun-filled clouds."
(p. 244)
"To the French generals who returned in fleets to reclaim these treasures and the souls of their slaves, Henry I had said, 'I will not surrender the Cap until it's in ashes. And even then I will continue to fight on these ashes.' He had given the signal to start the fires by torching his own house first." (p. 244)
"Our problem is one of dominion. Tell me, does anyone like to have their house flooded with visitors, to the point that the visitors replace their own children? How can a country be ours if we are in smaller numbers than the outsiders? Those of us who love our country are taking measures to keep it our own." (p. 290)
"I closed my eyes and imagined the giant citadel that loomed over my parents' house in Haiti, the fortress rising out of the miter-shaped mountain chain, like two joined fists battling the sky." (p. 55)
"My father loved to recount this tale of Henry I, a slave who, after the captives had rebelled against the French and formed their own nation, built forts like the great citadel to keep intruders away." (p. 55)
(6 October 1767 – 8 October 1820)
Escobar Bosco, Agostina - Flores, Lourdes
"In my sleep, I see my mother rising, like the mother spirit of the rivers, above the current that drowned her." (p. 231)
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