February 9th, 2018 by Karen
“Behind the mountains are more mountains.”
This Haitian proverb is the inspiration for the title of Behind the Mountains by Edwidge Danticat. It’s obviously a description of the landscape in Haiti. But at the end of the book, the main character, Celiane, reflects on how this saying has applied in a deeper way to her own life, with its many ups and downs. And as I read the final lines of the story, my heart was filled with all of the sadness, hope, and relief of Celiane’s journey — even though her life is so different from mine.
Just like me, Celiane moves to New York City from somewhere else. But unlike me, Celiane is coming from Haiti — a country I’ve never visited. That’s one of the things I enjoyed about reading Behind the Mountains; I got a chance to learn about life in Haiti through Celiane’s story.
Celiane lives with her mother and brother in the countryside, but her father is working in America, saving money and putting in his time until everyone can live in the U.S. together. In the meantime, Celiane studies hard at school, spends time with her boy-crazy best friend, helps her mom make and sell candies at the market, and goes to visit her aunt in the big city. It’s during this trip that Celiane has the most harrowing experience of her life and awakens to the volatile political situation in the country.
Unfortunately, Celiane’s problems don’t end when she gets to the United States. But now she faces a different set of challenges — learning now to navigate at her new school, in her new neighborhood, and within hew newly reunited family.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about life in Haiti — getting a window into another country, while also getting to know a character you’ll identify with despite your different backgrounds.
Have you read any other books about Haiti, or any other books about characters who immigrate to the U.S.? Leave a comment and share your recommendations!
Karen grew up in San Francisco. Even though it’s not nearly as warm there as it is in Haiti, Karen also had to acquire a winter coat and boots for her move to the East Coast — just like Celiane. And similarly, Karen was fascinated when she experienced her first snowfall!