Saturday, March 27, 2010

Behind the Mountains

Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat 2002

Rating: 3/5

IQ "At Saint Jerome's, Haiti did not seem so far away. I felt that if I reached out and touched anyone at the mass, I could be back in Haiti again, as though every person there was carrying a piece of Haiti with them in the warmth of their skin, beneath their winter coats." Celine pg. 95

Behind the Mountains starts off in 2000, during the time of Hati's elections. There is unrest sweeping across Haiti and bombs are going off in Port-au-Prince, which is where Celine's aunt lives. Celine and her family (her maman and older brother Moy) live in Bea Jour, Haiti, a rural area out far from all the violence. But they often to go to visit Celine's aunt and on the way back from their trip, a bomb explodes in their tap tap (a painted bus, called so because to get off, people tap on the side two times). Celine's mother decides that it is even more urgent that they leave Haiti and join Celine's father, who moved to New York a few years ago to make a better life for his family. Some things are better in New York, some things only get worse.

Celine is quite a mature thirteen year old with an active voice. This story added a new layer to the classic immigrant story. Celine observes from her father's actions, that perhaps having his family with him in New York is more of a burden than a blessing. The father seems to be frustrated with his family's inability to cope and understand all the new ways of America, but who can blame them? They aren't used to all that America has, ranging from electricity to snow. But they are trying. As usual, every family is different and the story of Celine and her family is interesting. The most intriguing aspect of the story was the strong Haitian population in NYC. Celine is in a class of children who are all Haitian, which allows her to skip the awkward new immigrant fresh off the plane stage.

I didn't love this book and it's not one that I will be rereading but it tells a good story and its a quick read. Celine is the only character we really hear about and I didn't see much growth in her. I was also disappointed because Celine is young and she doesn't care much about politics, so we never really get the gist of why all the violence is going on. Her voice is very limited. The other characters fell flat for me. We don't hear too much about Celine's brother, Moy or her maman or her father. While we do see the father develop a little bit, it's not until the very end and we didn't know how he acted in the past, while in Haiti with his family. I kept wondering if living in America had changed him.

Behind the Mountains gives a small look at the violent times of the 2000 Haiti elections and explores Haiti in the present day. Haiti and its rich culture and traditions are presented (they celebrate Day of the Dead, I had thought that was only a Mexican holiday). Celine and her family have a unique story and it's nice to not only read about Haiti, but about Haitian people in New York and their strong sense of community. This story didn't hold my interest, but it may be because there's too little action/adventure for my taste. 6th grade and up

To Learn: A 10 minute video on the history of Haiti

To Help: Donate money to help the children of Haiti at unicef

Disclosure: From the library

This is my last Haiti review of the week.


  1. I wasn't a big fan of this one either. If you haven't read Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory, I'd highly recommend it. I've heard good things about Farming of Bones but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

  2. @Keri-Everyone talks about Farming of Bones and how it's excellent! I want to read all Edwidge Danticat's work so I'll add Breath, Eyes, Memory to my list :)


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