Francesca Momplaisir | Haiti
Similar to a plot of land that can grow yams, potatoes, herbs for seasoning food, plantains, and even nourish one’s soul, The Garden of Broken Things grows and harvests multiple disfigured relationships within one Haitian family. Francesca Momplaisir’s sophomore novel explores the complexities associated not only with family resentments and jealousies, but it also delves into some of the economic, social, and historical context that has shaped modern day Haitian culture and society.
At the center of the story is a divorced mother of two, who is a successful psychiatrist by day, but a deeply hurt, explosive, and at times neglectful parent, when the pain of her divorce sets in and takes over. After her son has a run-in with police Genevieve decides to take her teenage son Miles to Haiti, in order to bond but also for him to hopefully realize the privileges he enjoys but takes for granted. In the midst of their trip are family revelations that are deep rooted and haunting. Not long after they arrive in Haiti, the 2010 earthquake occurs, providing a landscape that Momplaisir uses to juxtapose the spiritual and economic forces that define Haiti’s ability to survive this natural disaster, against the world’s skewed representation of the causes of the country’s plight.
Momplaisir has a special knack for writing about the spirituality of death and the power of the earth: the former being explored in the wake of the earthquake’s devastation and the latter used as the central point of contention among one matriarchal line that will do all it can to ensure that female inheritance is sustained for generations. This specifically becomes so important, that some lose their lives in order for this form of matrilineal primogeniture to endure. But it also is tied to the concept of ensuring that there is a resting place for the souls who own and work this land, and maintaining this tradition is sacred to this family.
The author also does an exceptional job in the writing of the character Ateya, Genevieve’s cousin in Haiti who is such a complex, multi-dimensional woman that at first I was all set to hate her, only to realize that there is a beauty in her flaws that I found endearing. It is also through Ateya that we get a sense of what survivors of the earthquake may have experienced mentally in trying to cope with the expanse of the destruction and the bewilderment of their individual loss.
Overall, I think Momplaisir’s novel is an interesting spin on the concept of breakage: relationships, bodies (mind and soul), countries, and societal structures and rules. Her subtle and sometimes in your face references to the politics, economics, inequities, and histories that link Haiti and the United States can serve as a springboard for deeper conversation that can bridge gaps in understanding on the true nature of Haiti’s greatness and downfall.
Please view this interview between Francesca Momplaisir and Edwidge Danticat discussing The Garden of Broken Things.