“The Farming of Bones”
By Lorna Hollifield
I had regret at first for choosing “The Farming of Bones” by Edwidge Danticat. It wasn’t because the book wasn’t incredible. It was almost too powerful. I initially chose the book for February because it highlights an intense romance between two people during a very unsettling period in 1930s Hispaniola. Moreover, it is written by an amazing Haitian-American, an award-winning, female author who is so deserving of celebration during any month, let alone Black History Month. Sounds great, right? So why the regret?
Honestly, I thought that maybe I’d failed you readers by not bringing a more bubble-gum, sweet-and-easy-to-chew romance for the month of love. I was scared that maybe you deserved something more along the makings of a Hallmark movie than a doomed love set against the backdrop of one of the worst massacres in Caribbean history. But then I stopped thinking so much about the kind of love people (including myself) want to hear about and started looking at the kind of love that has existed throughout time, across every culture – raw love, the illogical, unstoppable kind we are born with.
To not appreciate love during the darkest times would be a horrible disservice to the emotion that is the very thing that gets us through those times. Without giving too much away about the novel, I realized that though the romance featured was indeed a tragic one, it was one without rue, without stipulations, and without an end. It was the thing that made the ugliness good and brought the flicker of humanity to the most broken place. It made the setting sacred. It gave meaning to life when there was none.
How dare I try to negate that power in exchange for candy hearts, meet-cutes, and first- world obstacles like a high-paying job offer in Paris? How dare I not tell the love story of the weak and voiceless? A passage from the novel reads, “Famous men never truly die. It is only those nameless and faceless who vanish like smoke into the early morning air.” I for one am determined not to let that happen this time.
As I read about these hard times in midcentury Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with so much death, hard work and racial division, I started thinking about my own city. Charleston, so rich with history and beauty, has been subject to such things itself. For instance, 40 to 60 percent of the enslaved Africans in North America were brought into the port of Charleston, to the same waters we jog alongside and take our lazy Sunday shore cruises upon. But even through those wretched times, babies were born, people were married and love somehow endured. Somewhere two enslaved people would meet in a field to rendezvous, or a husband and wife ripped apart by the trade would survive simply by the memory of one another. There were imperfect, ugly, blood-soaked love stories all over the land we walk across so hurriedly every day. Do those stories deserve to be told any less because they’re sometimes hard to hear? I say, “Hell no.” They probably deserve it more because they managed to exist at all in such volatile times.
Now we often have the luxuries of planning to marry after we’ve completed school, landed a job and purchased that cute starter home in the suburbs. Reading “The Farming of Bones” reminded me that there have been times that finding love meant finding it wherever you damn well could – perhaps like Sebastien and Amabelle did, machete-scarred, behind a waterfall, dodging snakes and ill-advised soldiers in the dark of the night, taking the fleeting moments and sprinkling love atop of the hate. How very brave of them, how very brave of the real-life people whose names we do not know but will celebrate.
Now I have no regrets about this book, and more than that, am certain I somehow chose perfectly. I’m glad I didn’t know what I was getting into, or I would have gone for something a little lighter on the heart. But I think sometimes to know the past, to know the struggles of others, and to experience love a little less easily is what some of us might need. It reminds us to appreciate what we have, put down the selfie stick and matte lip gloss for a minute, and just bask in the joy of the greatest human emotion. Time has shown us that it cannot, will not be extinguished. Love never fails.