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Adoption and Child Separation at the Border

On June 1, 2018 Rebekah Henson published an important thread on Twitter critiquing the hashtags #FamiliesBelongTogether and #Ke...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Haitian Adoption Story: Review of The Roving Tree by Elsie Augustave

Elsie Augustave’s novel The Roving Tree tells the story of a Haitian adoptee, Iris Odys, who at the age of five is given for adoption by her poor single mother to a white couple from New York state. She is raised there, along with her new older sister, also white and also adopted. Guiding her development are her black American godfather—a family friend—and her Haitian dance teacher. Iris’s involvement in college with the Black Students League ultimately leads her back to her native country, where she begins to uncover her biological identity and develops a yearning to understand her African ancestry. She follows her heart to Zaire, and her cultural immersion brings with it unexpected life choices.

Like her protagonist, Augustave was also born in Haiti and left for the U.S. as a child, although not due to adoption. Her family emigrated to America to escape the Duvalier regime. There were only two other Haitian families living in their upstate New York town. In interviews, she has said the inspiration for Iris came from a story she heard while visiting Haiti as an adult, about the child of a peasant woman who had been adopted by a French missionary couple. Augustave imagined what the child’s life might have been like in a foreign land, away from everything and everyone she knew.

Despite not being adopted herself, Augustave has portrayed some of the identity angst many adoptees feel through the character of Iris. We feel Iris’s ambivalence toward her Haitian mother as a young child—a protective instinct—and, likewise, we recognize her desire as an adult to understand her Haitian family and their belief system.