Book Review: The Roving Tree by Elsie Augustave

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Last year around this time, I was searching for Haitian authors and this week I have back-to-back book reviews from Haitian authors. Yay.


“When I left Monn Neg at the age of five, I left behind everything and everyone I had known. Now, the questions about my former life followed me like an invisible shadow. People, places, and experiences emerged from darkness to become a life beyond conscious memory. The river that knew the mysteries of my ancestors had caused my mind to wander in its flow. The river remembered the paths it traveled but couldn’t return to them, just like I couldn’t return to my past.”

(Excerpt from The Roving Tree, page 116)

The Roving Tree is a debut novel by new author Elise Augustave. Told in her own voice, Iris Odys is a young Haitian girl adopted by a White American couple when she is five years old. Taken from the home of her single mother who is struggling to make a better life for her daughter, Iris suddenly finds herself smack dab in the suburbs of New York.

Forced to assimilate to American culture, Iris soon forgets her Haitian roots and even her mother.  She is Americanized in every sense except when the sounds of the drums drop, and then she is reacquainted with her culture through dance.  Not quite American and not quite Haitian, Iris struggles to find her own footing especially when the two worlds collide forcing her to examine who she really is.

The Roving Tree is the answer to the famous question, “What should I read next?” As a Haitian-American, I have been in the same position as Iris in struggling to identify my cultural identity. While weaving a magical tale on a young woman’s journey to self-actualization, Elsie Augustave seamlessly sneaks in a well-rounded picture of the richness and diversity of the Haitian culture as well as the troubled political climate.

I am definitely looking forward to her next book.


**I received this book from Akashic Books in exchange for an honest review.**

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Book Review: Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian trilogy

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Edwidge Danticat calls Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian trilogy (recently translated into English from Amour, Colere et Folie) by Marie Vieux-Chauvet, “the cornerstone of Haitian literature.” When my favorite writer speaks, this student of Edwidge listens.

Love, Anger, Madness  follows the lives of three families living in a sleepy town far from the politically charged capital. In Love, Claire Clamont is haunted by her dark skin and hopelessly pines after a man who will never love her. Anger follows the unraveling of a wealthy family after a direct government intervention. In Madness, we are introduced to the Intellectuals who rail against the government as liberally as they gulp down clairin.

However, beneath the surface Vieux-Chauvet reveals the internal struggles that plague the first black republic painting a world wrought with fear, suspicion, panic, and desperation. Continue reading

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Bronze shoes

Last week we hosted a Breast cancer workshop at my job and it made me think of my mother; a two-year survivor. Thinking of my mother made me think of her late best friend.
I am no stranger to death but few have left heart prints like my mother’s best friend and my childhood babysitter.
I think I was in college when my babysitter died. She was sick, it was not a surprise but the blow of pain in my chest caught me off guard. By the time I met her, I had pretty much decided I was old enough to take care of myself; she was mostly around for my younger siblings. Eventually, I regarded her as the grandmother I never had.
She was annoying; her voice got screechy when she yelled, she nagged constantly, and made fun of how I played the cello. She taught us bible verses, songs, and how to count fast in French. She was weird; she ate funny stuff and I never really knew much of her life before us. She would cackle, throwing her head back revealing a gap-toothed smile. And she had the longest shock of white hair that she let us play in for hours.  I loved her; she was a comforting presence in my young life. It was very difficult to get through her funeral, I felt like I lost a very familiar part of myself.
A few years later, my mother’s best friend passed away after battling breast cancer. She was funny; most of my memories are of me giggling at something she said. I lived for the evenings my mother would gather up rice, sauce pois, and legume to take over to her house. Of course, we would stay a bit, regaled by her latest tales, and I would go find her daughters who later became dear friends. One day she gave me a pair of bronze Steve Madden flats that I loved immediately and wore although they were a bit snug.
After her death, I continued to wear those too tight shoes until my toes cried out in protest. I kept them in my closet, lovingly stored with my other beauties. They were my last memory of her and I refused to give them up. Until the day, I realized she was closer than I thought when I hung out with her daughters and their kids. Her spirit was not gone but recycled in the ones she loved.
What are your favorite memories of some of the special people in your life?

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They call me…

I have always been overly emotional. I cry when I’m angry, happy, sad, depressed, overwhelmed, etc. They called me sensitive.
I love to read and will do it everywhere. I used to read at the dinner table growing up. They called me rude.
I’ve always liked to stay by myself and while some people call it stuck up, I call it familiar. I trust me. I know me.
I hated parties then and I hate them now. Regardless if the host was a close cousin or a stranger, I would be posted up on the couch. They called me the shy sister. They still do. Continue reading

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The art of sitting still

I was trying to listen to a T.D. Jakes podcast so I could get my life together and it took everything in me to simply listen.
I cannot remember the last time I sat still without doing anything. I watch my ratchet television shows while folding laundry or twisting my hair. I eat lunch at work while typing notes.
It may come from years of watching my mother always doing something. Even when we had guests over for dinner, she was in the kitchen rummaging around, never enjoying her friends. Continue reading

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Its About Time

All weekend long, subtle simple truths dropped in my lap.

The Answer Man (paraphrased): “Don’t take advice from people whose lives you would not trade places with.”

“You are exactly where you want to be. No one is making you stay there.”

And then in About Time(a romantic comedy) somewhere in the middle of a movie about family and time traveling, I learned to live each day as if it were my last. Time travelers have the unique gift to re-live certain moments or occasions. In real life, this only exists in our minds. In real life, you only get to live once.

Sounds innocuous enough. Continue reading

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Living while Black

Growing up my father always told me that as a girl born to Haitian parents, I would have to work twice as hard. He said, “When you do something good, they will be proud to call you an American but as soon as you do something wrong, you are Black.”

I thought he was being a tad melodramatic. People did not really think like that. No one in my class treated me differently because I was Black.

Then I noticed little things like when a classmate would ask me the answer to a question posed in class and then would double check with a White classmate. Or if I got a higher grade, their eyebrows would raise in disbelief, but if I got a grade lower, they would smile at me reassuringly. Continue reading

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Adventures in Pole Dancing

Going into my first pole dancing class last week, I only had two goals for the night: master at least one move (i.e.vnot like Carrie from King of Queens) and not to fall and injure myself (I use my hands for a living).
Among the things my heavily accented petite instructor mentioned, the one that stuck out the most was, “Be sexy.
She said it nonchalantly as if sexuality was something that could be turned on or off. While I realize that most woman have this ability, I am not one of those women. Continue reading

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Breaking the Pattern

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I grew up in a performance-based household where praise was given only for good work. Even that praise was rationed.
I remember getting a 98% on a test and my mother saying, “What did you do with the other 2%?”
I always thought it was cute; you know our “thang,” but years later, I realized this was a very telling pattern of our relationship.
Four months after I do, my mother demanded to know where her grandbaby was. Almost four years later, she is still asking. See? Telling.
I always considered myself the apple of my father’s eye when I was younger because that is what everyone told me. I was the favorite because I was a good girl and got the good grades. Nowadays I’m on the other side of being the favorite.
The other day hubby accused told me that I never praised our dog.
I scoffed, “Of course that’s not true!” Continue reading

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Book Review: Is everyone hanging out without me? (And other concerns) by Mindy Kaling

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I have loved Mindy Kaling since The Office when she played the ditzy Kelly Kapoor. Now with her new show The Mindy Project and a book that I literally just finished, I have so many more reasons to love her. In honor of Mindy and her “pliests**”, I have decided to list the reasons why I loved this book.

We are Besties

  1. I really feel as if I know her after reading about her life. She is very candid about her early life experiences such as getting teased for her weight and not having many friends. She also talks a lot about shopping and eating—two of my favorite things.
  2. Continue reading

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