Sophie, who has lived with her aunt in Haiti for the 12 years since her birth is being sent to live with her mother in New York. She leaves her aunt and grandmother amid a riot at the airport, and arrives in New York to meet her mother and her mother's long-term lover. Her mother has frequent nightmares, related, as it turns out, to the rape that eventuated in the birth of Sophie. Sophie's mother insists that the only road out of poverty is to study hard; she wants Sophie to become a doctor, and jealously oversees her work and protects her virginity, frequently testing her to make sure she has not been sexually active.

Eventually Sophie elopes with a kind musician, Joseph, but finds herself unable to enjoy sex. She returns to Haiti with their baby while he is on tour, and finds refuge among the women who raised her, though they themselves suffer various effects of poverty, alcohol, and violence. Sophie's mother flies to Haiti to be reconciled with her and takes her back to New York where the two women and their partners briefly share peace and kindness. But when Sophie's mother finds she is pregnant, she begins to have the nightmares about rape again, and kills herself. Sophie and the mother's lover fly to Haiti for the burial. Sophie runs away from the gravesite into the fields where her mother was raped, and attacks the cane stalks in fury, frustration, and a final cathartic gesture of self-liberation from a painful past.


The novel, though uneven, especially in the later chapters, and rather too full of incident, offers much insight into lives shaped by poverty, sexual violence, cultural displacement, and broken relationships. Despite the many hard experiences depicted, the depiction of female bonds, the ways women sustain community even in situations of abandonment and sorrow, conveys hope. Sophie, her aunt, and her mother are all memorable characters--women who have survived and borne much, who carry pain and sometimes inflict pain as a result, but whose resourcefulness and capacity to choose life on compromised terms testifies to the depths of resilience many find even after deep trauma. The mother's eventual suicide is tragic, but the fury it evokes in Sophie seems yet another reassertion of life force in the midst of violence and loss.



Place Published

New York



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