Two small nations—the Dominican Republic, originally colonized by Spain, and Haiti, once ruled by France and settled largely by the descendants of African slaves—share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Steeped in their uneasy coexistence, Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian American, uses as the background of her novel a haunting event in the island’s history: the 1937 massacre of Haitian immigrant workers by order of the Dominican dictator, Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo. His action was designed to rid his country of Haitians, some of whom had lived there for generations, even though they were needed to work the land. Within two weeks, his militia slaughtered some twenty thousand Haitian men, women, and children.
Danticat’s narrator, Amabelle Désir, is a Haitian worker, a housemaid for the pureblooded Spanish family of Don Ignacio and his daughter, Señora Valencia. Years before, Don Ignacio discovered eleven-year-old Amabelle, who had just witnessed the accidental drowning of her parents in the Massacre River, which separates Haiti from the Dominican Republic. He reared her with his own daughter in the latter nation until the two were young women, when their relative stations became clear.
Danticat employs alternating chapters written in two distinctive voices. The first, lyric, impressionistic voice reveals Amabelle’s inner self—her dreams, memories, and intense love for the cane cutter Sebastien Onius. The second is Amabelle’s...
(The entire section is 561 words.)