Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Roving Tree by Elsie Augustave

Elsie Augustave's debut novel explores multiple themes: separation and loss, rootlessness, the impact of class privilege and color consciousness, and the search for cultural identity. The central character, Iris Odys, is the offspring of Hagathe, a Haitian maid, and a French-educated mulatto father, Brahami, who cares little about his child. Hagathe, who had always dreamed of a better life for her child, is presented with the perfect opportunity when Iris is five years old. Adopted by a white American couple, Iris is transported from her tiny remote Haitian village, Monn Neg, to an American suburb.

The Roving Tree illuminates how imperfectly assimilated adoptees struggle to remember their original voices and recapture their personal histories and cultural legacy. Set between two worlds—suburban America and Haiti under Papa Doc's repressive regime—the novel offers a unique literary glimpse into the deeply entrenched class discrimination and political repression of Haiti during the Duvalier era, along with the subtle but nonetheless dangerous effects of American racism.

The Roving Tree is a poignant revelation about racial and cultural prejudices told through the eyes of a young black Haitian woman named Iris who is adopted by a white American family. Born into poverty and threatened by a black radical leader, Iris’ mother willingly gives up her young daughter to an American family in the hopes of protecting her and giving her a better life. The story then takes the reader through various circumstances and stages throughout the heroine’s life. It gives readers a strong perspective on how racial differences affect people.

Beyond the deep, underlying messages of religion, culture, social classes, and prejudice, there is a darn good story being told. One cannot help being engaged with Iris’ plight of being at the centre of two racial worlds.
The prose is written in first person, gentle and easy to read. The story unfolds in the present with clever use of flashbacks that reveal the past without breaking the flow of the story. I liked the Haitian/African background of the heroine because it brings about awareness of the social and political background of that country. Most of all, this is a novel about a young woman’s awakening to her roots as she travels from Haiti to American to Haiti and Africa. The beauty of this book lies in its simplicity. An engaging read that packs a powerful punch.

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