09/28/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
by Edwidge Danticat
Book of the Week
With her first novel, 1994's Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat hit the Oprah
Book Club jackpot, telling the coming-of-age story of a Haitian girl who moves to New York City to live with a mother she does not remember. In her latest, Danticat lifts a painful page from history to evoke the 1937 massacre of Haitian immigrants by Dominican soldiers in a Caribbean version of ethnic cleansing.
In prose at once poetic and graphic, Danticat summons that disgraceful episode through the eyes of Amabelle, a Haitian maid who at age 8 had watched her parents drown while attempting to cross the river to the Dominican Republic years before the massacre. Since then, Amabelle has been raised by a wealthy Dominican family. Lulled by gratitude and comfort, Amabelle enjoys a sense of security that blinds her to the idea, as she says, "that the river of blood might come to my doorstep, that it had always been in our house, that it is in all our houses."
After narrowly escaping the slaughter, Amabelle must cope not only with her wounds and memories but also with the disappearance of her lover, Sebastien, a sugar cane worker. Was he killed? Did he suffer? Did he escape? "Men with names never truly die," she asserts. "It is only the nameless and faceless who vanish." By bearing witness, Danticat keeps the memory of Haiti's countless Sebastiens eloquently alive. (Soho, $23)
Bottom Line: Disturbing but abundantly readable historical novel