Augustave, a first-time novelist, pens a well-balanced story about a young woman, caught between two worlds, who struggles to connect with her heritage.
Iris Odys grew up in a world vastly different from the one in which she was born. When she dies shortly after giving birth, her final wish is that the story of her life be related to her daughter so that she will understand who she is. When Hagathe, a maid who works for a wealthy family, returns to her Haitian village and gives birth to Iris, she ekes out a living for herself and her daughter, but life is not easy under the rule of "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his ever-present militia, the Tonton Macoute. After Hagathe is brutally assaulted, she makes a difficult decision: Concerned for her daughter’s safety and future, she asks a visiting anthropologist and her husband to adopt 5-year-old Iris and take her to America. The Winstons, a wealthy Caucasian couple, already have one adopted daughter and readily agree to Hagathe’s request. Raised in privilege by her loving and supportive parents, Iris assimilates into her new culture, but her need to understand her origins, to delve into the very essence of her existence, and to embrace not only herself, but her ancestors, is overpowering. Her godfather enrolls Iris in Haitian dance classes, and it’s when she dances to the beating drums that she finally begins to connect to her roots. Entering college, Iris joins the Black Students Union and meets fellow Haitian Pépé, with whom she feels an immediate bond. A disturbing message from Haiti and information about her biological family compel Iris to return to Haiti, where she learns about her ancestors’ mystical rituals and practices. Her decision to accept a job in Africa finally reconciles past, present and future when Iris falls in love with an older, politically powerful man who wishes to marry her. Augustave has created a polished narrative that addresses racism and cultural and class differences and provides a wealth of information about vaudou beliefs.
A praiseworthy effort.