Chapter 1 and 2 introduces us to Amabelle and the main characters in the story. First comes Amabelle’s boyfriend Sebastien Onius. The detailed description of his body, personality and importance in her life becomes the start of the book. Amabelle recalls the memory of her parents at the beginning of Chapter 2 as Senora Valencia, Amabelle’s friend and mistress, goes into labor. This “baby” exposes a deeper understanding of Amabelle’s childhood, parents, relationship to her mistress and the race relationships in the Dominican Republic in 1937.
The reader learns that Senora Valencia and Amabelle have quite an intimate relationship for a Dominican woman and a Haitian woman. Amabelle’s parents died when she was 8; Senora Valencia and her father, Papi, rescued her from the edge of a river. Senora Valencia gives birth to twins: one girl, small and dark skinned and one boy, strong and creamy skin. Senora Valencia worries that her daughter will be mistaken for one of Amabelle’s people.
Chapter 3 and 5 and 7 are devoted to Sebastien. He questions her about her mother in Chapter 3, tells about the death of his father in Chapter 5, and again questions Amabelle, this time about her father. These segments have no real sense of chronology. The reader given the sense that even in times of trouble or joy, Sebastien is never far from the corner of Amabelle’s mind. Within the next chapter, the reader meets Doctor Javier and Juana. Juana is the Dominican housemaid who has been with Senora Valencia since her birth. She is overwhelmed with emotion when she sees the babies. Dr. Javier is impressed by the smooth delivery of the twins even though the baby girl, born second, had a caul over her face. The doctor tells Amabelle that she would work well as a nurse in one of the clinics he visits in Haiti. For the first time in years, Amabelle considers going back home. Senora Valencia talks to Amabelle in Chapter 6 of her joy, of her mother and of her husband. The reader also discovers Juana’s emotional journey and her attempts at child birth. She and Luis, her husband who works outside, have never put this behind them.
In chapter 8, the reader meets Senor Pico, Senora Valencia’s husband, and quickly learn his character. Papi went to go tell Senor Pico, officer in the Dominican military, of his newborn babies. Luis tells Amabelle and Juana while Senor is meeting his children that Pico hit a Haitian man with his car in his hurry and didn’t even stop to help. This is the first demonstration of Pico’s racism. Now that Senor Pico is home Senora Valencia is somewhat cold to Amabelle in comparison to previous chapters. Amabelle is slightly put off by this but not surprised. She worries that Sebastien is the worker they hit with the car.
Along with segments of pillow talk Sebastien, Amabelle tells stories and dreams with no sequence in between the plot progression. Chapter 9 is a recollection of her parent’s death, a particularly traumatic event for her. Chapter 11 is a story or a childhood sickness when she still had a home, a mother and a doll to keep her company. Chapter 13 is a single page of Sebastien talking his sleep. The chapters in between discuss the murder. Sebastien was present for the murder. The man killed was named Joel. The working-class Haitians bathe together in a lake and gossip about the murder. They are all concerned for Felice and Kongo, Joel’s father and girlfriend. Amabelle never really voices her true opinions on the matter. She listens to everyone, serving as a filter for the reader hearing and seeing through her eyes. Chapter 15 is a day in Amabelle’s life, travelling through the neighborhoods of richer Haitians fearing the Dominicans and running errands for her mistress. Papi sits in the living room as always, listening to the radio for news of the war. He, like Juana and Luis, cannot let the past go. The doctor beseeches Amabelle again to join him in Haiti to be a nurse.
Papi confronts Amabelle about Joel’s death. He feels quite guilty and asks her if he can visit Joel’s family and pay for the funeral. She promises to find out. Directly after her talk with Papi, Amabelle goes to check on Senora Valencia. Valencia goes to check on her children and ironically, finds that her son is not breathing. He dies. One of the twins, Rafael and Rosalinda, Dominicans and Haitians, is dead while the other cries. Amabelle describes a cave that she first made love to Sebastien in. She describes the beautiful light that exists only there and wishes it would shine on the graves of Joel and Rafael. Senora Valencia asks Juana, in her grief, to describe her mother. Senora Valencia remains in this state throughout the rest of the book, never really growing past her mother’s death or her child’s.
Amabelle tells a story of her father making a lantern for her. She asks if he can make one of his face so she will never forget him. Kongo comes to visit Amabelle in the night. He brings a mask of his son’s face and proposal of marriage from Sebastien. She decides to go see Sebastien, running into in the process a set of guards of the work camp. They warn her not to go out at night, that the Dominicans are beginning to target the Haitians asking them to say “perejil” and killing them if they cannot say it correctly. Senor Pico has to leave now that the funeral and christenings are over. Pico tells Valencia to be wary of the Haitians and to protect herself if the time comes and leaves.
Chapters 27- end
The Generalissimo intents to “cleanse the country,” Haitian cane workers and their women attempt to flee. Amabelle and Sebastien run together and are separated in the chaos. Amabelle is desperate to find Sebastien. She and Sebastien’s friend, Yves, who she finds searching for Sebastien, try to make their way to their country, all the while searching for Sebastien. They make it to Dajabon, a border town on the way to Haiti. They search and search but do not find Sebastien. After recognizing their inability to pronounce “perejil”, Dominicans beat and torture Amabelle, Yves, and fellow Haitians, Tibon and Odette, after recognizing their inability to pronounce “perejil”. The other members of their rag-tag team rescue Amabelle and Yves and bring them to the river that they must cross. Only Amabelle and Yves survive the dangerous crossing. They are met at the other side by nuns who nurse them back to health. During the recovery process, Amabelle learns of the other survivors’ story of “kout kouto,” what the Haitians call the massacre.
Amabelle and Yves end up at the clinic that Dr. Javier was trying to send her to help. After being there for several years, searching and discovering more stories, Amabelle still has not found Sebastien. She has grown comfortable with Yves living together at his house with him working in the fields and her in the clinic. She refuses to forget the love of her life and the pain she has endured, just like Juana, Luis, Papi and Senora Valencia. The book ends with her walking into the river her parents died in naked, Remembering.
"Heaven—my heaven—is the veil of water that stands between my parents and me. To step across it and then come out is what makes me alive."
"A border is a veil not many people can wear. The valley is a daydream, the village, the people, and Joël, with a grave that only a broken-hearted old man would ever know how to find."
"This past is more like flesh than air; our stories testimonials like the ones never heard by the justice of the peace or the Generalissimo himself. His name is Sebastien Onus and his story is like a fish with no tail, a dress with no hem, a drop with no fall, a body in the sunlight with no shadow. His absence is my shadow; his breath my dreams. New dreams seem a waste, needless annoyances, too much to crowd into the tiny space that remains."
In this quote Amabelle reflects on the loss of her lover, Sebastien. She once described him as the only thing that was truly hers, and without him she feels lost and empty.
The Parsley Massacre is a very large theme of “The Farming of Bones.” Dominicans would ask Haitians to say the word parsley to see if they were Dominican or Haitian. Frequently it was hard to distinguish who was who because so many looked alike. People would be demanded to say “perejill” or parsley to determine if they were Dominican or Haitian.
"Your people did not trill their ‘r’ the way we do, or pronounce the jota. ‘You can never hide as long as there is parsley nearby,’ the Generalissimo is believed to have said. On this island, you walk to far and people speak a different language. Their own words reveal who belongs on what side." - Senora Valencia (p g 304)
“The Generalissimo’s mind was surely as dark as death, but if he had heard Odette’s ‘pési,’ it might have startled him, not the tears and supplications he would have expected, no shriek from unbound fear, but a provocation, a challenge, a dare. To the devil with your world, your grass, your wind, your water, your air, your words. You ask for perejil, I give you more.”
"His name is Sebastien Onius. Sometimes this is all I know. My back aches now in all those places that he claimed for himself, arches of bare skin that belonged to him, pockets where the flesh remains fragile, seared like unhealed burns where each fallen scab uncovers a deeper wound."