Sofia, who lives in Haiti and New York, is one member of a family of migrants. When Sophie was young, her mother, Martine, left Haiti for New York, where she settled and worked, and Sofia remained in Haiti, living first with her grandmother and then with her aunt. By the time she is a teenager, she barely knows her mother, who does not come to visit. Then her mother sends for her, and she moves to New York to live with her—a person she considers little more than a stranger.
Sophie must get used to life in New York but cannot get comfortable there. Part of her understands that her mother had lived in New York alone and far from family, enduring a self-imposed exile, while saving enough money to bring Sophie to her. But Sophie feels doubly exiled. While back in Haiti, she had felt that her mother did not want her around, and she had grown very close to her aunt. She experienced the separation from her mother as a kind of exile in her own homeland, an exile of the heart through estrangement. After moving to the United States, however, she understands more fully the matter of physical separation from home, as she misses not only her aunt and grandmother but the Haitian smells, sounds, and foods she grew up with.
After some years pass, Sophie becomes estranged from Martine once again after several vehement disagreements over Sophie’s personal life, and especially her ownership of her body as related to sexual matters. Now a mother herself, Sophie takes her daughter to Haiti to meet her relatives. Uncertain about her future as a possible returning migrant, she realizes that the condition of exile is not as much of a physical state as she had believed. The internal, emotional exile is reactivated as she struggles to reconnect with the Haiti of her childhood. Ultimately, however, it is Sophie who can adjust and Martine who cannot. Sophie’s final adjustment in the novel is to her mother’s death and burial, as she understands Martine as another fragile, mortal person rather than the larger-than-life imagined mother/hero who had loomed so large.