Review: The Roving Tree by Elsie Augustave

Posted June 13, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews / 10 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Roving Tree by Elsie AugustaveThe Roving Tree by Elsie Augustave
Published by Akashic Books, Open Lens on May 7, 2013
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 300
Source: the publisher

Goodreads | Amazon

The Roving Tree is a debut novel exploring themes of separation and loss, rootlessness, the impact of class privilege and color consciousness, and the search for cultural identity. The central character, Iris Odys, is adopted from a remote Haitian village to a middle-class American suburb.

Set between these two worlds--privileged America and Haiti under the oppressive regime of Pap Doc's Tonton Macoutes--the novel offers a unique glimpse into the deeply entrenched class discrimination and political repression of Haiti during the Duvalier era, along with the subtle but nonetheless dangerous effects of American racism.

(from the inside flap)

Iris has always felt as though she has no true cultural identity. Given up for adoption by her mother, Iris is taken from Haiti at a young age to live with a white family in America. She doesn’t understand why her mother has given her up, she doesn’t know who her biological father is, nor does she understand the racism she encounters at school. As she gets older, there are many things about her past and her present that she doesn’t understand, including where she fits in. She doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

Iris’ feeling of being lost in the world and her difficulty in understanding her past are two things that Iris never wants her newborn daughter to go through. So when Iris dies in childbirth, she asks Aida Wedo (a Haitian vaudou spirit) and Granmet (the Haitian vaudou God) to allow her to write a letter to her newborn daughter. This letter becomes Iris’ autobiography. In this way, Iris is able to give her daughter a history she can find her place in. The Roving Tree is this posthumous autobiography.

The Roving Tree is so well-written. In addition to being a good story, Augustave manages to fit so many ideas and so much history into 300 pages, and she does it well. I already knew a bit about Haiti’s history under Papa Doc and his son, but I learned so much more from The Roving Tree. I also learned much about Haitian vaudou and the corruption in African countries like Zaire that I wasn’t aware of before. Augustave made me feel what Iris was going through–that sense of loss and not fully belonging anywhere, the feeling of always being the odd one out wherever one is. But while Iris’ story starts out full of loneliness and  a feeling of incompleteness, it ends with a sense of fulfillment and happiness as Iris learns more about herself and her family in Haiti. It’s this feeling of belonging and knowing who she is that she wants to pass down to her newborn daughter.

The Roving Tree is Elsie Augustave’s debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Augustave writes beautifully and it’s obvious that she cares a lot about the subject matter she chooses. I definitely recommend The Roving Tree to anyone who likes reading literary fiction and/or to anyone who is interested in the ideas and history portrayed in the book.

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  • This sounds great! I remember reading Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid and just being blown away by the poverty of life in the Caribbean and the fact that Americans just didn’t get it… Sounds a bit along those lines!

    • I really need to read some Jamaica Kincaid. I have her books on my list but haven’t gotten to any of them.

      • Speaking of Jamaica Kincaid, she will also be at the National Book Festival this September in DC and the same offer I made to you for Margaret Atwood applies.

        And as always, great review.

  • Looks like a good one. I will put this on the tbr. I wonder if my book club would like it…

  • I love the sound of this. Even the title is such a nice image.

  • Great review- I have a basic understanding of Haitian history and would love to learn more!

  • This definitely sounds like one I’ll want to read. Unlike you, I know little about Haiti and Papa Doc. It sounds like this book might be a good introduction. Great review.

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  • Wow, this sounds absolutely wonderful Heather! Thanks so much for directing me to it. I really like how easy your site is to navigate:)

  • Also, I went to a vodou exhibit in Gatineau, Quebec a few weeks ago. It was absolutely fascinating learning about the real, as opposed to the Hollywood, vodou. I really want to read up more on that topic.I am going to post some pictures on my blog when I get my act together 🙂