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The Roving Tree, by Elsie Augustave.

May 17, 2013
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The Roving Tree, by Elsie Augustave.  OpenLens (2013), Paperback, 300 pages.

A poignant novel about a young Haitian woman, raised in the United States, discovering her roots in Haiti and Africa.

Numerous books are now being published about individuals who have migrated from Africa and other parts of the once colonized world.  Often these reflect the movements of their authors’ lives.  The Roving Tree tells the opposite story of a talented young woman failing to find herself in the “developed world” and needing to return to her homeland and then to her people’s African roots.   This is the story of Iris, a Haitian girl adopted at the age of five by a white American couple.  An anthropology professor and a gallery owner, they become her loving parents, but she has little contact with other Haitians, or even other blacks.  When the mother who gave her birth dies, Iris returns to Haiti and grows to know the relatives she had left behind.  While they complicate her life, she is enriched by the experience.  Then, as a talented and skilled dancer, she is hired to work in Zaire, helping a dance troupe combine classic and native dances.  Here her life takes on an expanded quality, despite its dangers.  The opening section covering Iris’s childhood in the United States seemed sketchy, but when the novel expanded to Haiti and Africa it took on depth and interest.  Both Haitian and African myths and traditions become important.  The reality of dictators cast an ominous shadow on the personal affairs of Iris and those whom she came to love.

Augustave is a talented writer who brings her varied characters to life and shows readers parts of the world that few of us have experienced.  Her book is an excellent anecdote to books about immigration that, intentionally or not, present the western world as the favored or inevitable destination.  Like Iris, she was born in Haiti, lived in the United States, and choreographed for the prestigious National Dance Theater of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I strongly recommend The Roving Tree to all those who are interested in Haiti, Zaire, and African traditions more generally.

I received this book as an advance copy from Akashic Books through Library Things Early Review program.

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