The Garden of Broken Things

Knopf. May 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780593321065. $28. F
Gorgeously written opening lines belie the calamitous earthquake that they portend in this powerful novel from MacCracken Fellow Momplaisir (My Mother’s House). Power couple Genevieve, a psychiatrist, and Bright, a lawyer, split before their second son is born. They share the fear of all Black parents for their boys’ safety but argue over how to assure it. So, when teenage Miles has his first close call with police, Genevieve determines to get him out of Manhattan, against Bright’s wishes. She believes that a trip to Haiti, her ancestral home, will help Miles understand his privilege and deepen the bond between them. They will stay with Ateya, a cousin who is both grateful for and resentful of the largesse she receives from her relatives in the United States. Ateya visits her frustrations upon her nine-year-old daughter, whom Genevieve dreams of rescuing from the deprivations of Haiti and her mother’s scant affection. Momplaisir’s luminous prose evokes the heat, smells, colors, and sounds of Port au Prince, lulling readers into believing that all will be well. Then the earth convulses.
VERDICT Superlative in her ability to portray the interior lives of mothers and their 24/7 litany of self-recrimination, Momplaisir also tackles themes of racism, immigration, and the lasting effects of colonialism. A notable achievement.
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