In her novel The Roving Tree, Elsie Augustave explores the ramifications of multicultural adoption. Even with the very best of intentions, adoptive parents bringing foreign children into their families may not be able to provide them with adequate knowledge and understanding of their native culture.
As a little girl in Haiti, Iris, the main character of The Roving Tree, faces an uncertain future with limited potential for opportunity. Her mother, fearing for the safety and well-being of Iris, sees a chance for her daughter to have a better, more satisfying life. She offers the ultimate sacrifice, agreeing to let an American couple adopt Iris and take her to New York, where she is to lead a privileged life nothing like anything she would have experienced had she stayed with her Haitian family. Iris thrives in America, but she longs for a connection to her homeland. She has limited success trying to find connections to Haiti in New York, but discovers that the mystery and mysticism of her birth culture cannot truly be experienced in the U.S. Her quest for a greater understanding of her heritage takes her back to Haiti and eventually, as she delves further into the history of her ancestors, to Africa.
From the first page of The Roving Tree I was intrigued, for a couple reasons. First of all, each chapter begins with a very fitting and thought-provoking quotation. The first, at the beginning of the Prologue, reads: “From whatever place I write, you will expect that part of my “Travels” will consist of the excursions in my own mind,” attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Reading on, the appropriateness of this quote becomes apparent. These short passages at the beginning of every chapter lent some insight into the meaning of what I was about to read.
The second aspect of the book that immediately hooked me was the peek into Haitian and African culture, a subject about which I know little. Reading about the rituals and customs of Iris’ family and ancestors was interesting. Also, I gained a greater sense of understanding of what it must be like for an individual to live amongst people of a different cultural background. While Iris is obviously loved and cared for by her adoptive family, that can’t change her feelings of being isolated from her people and their ways.
The Roving Tree is an out of the ordinary tale of self-discovery, offering insights into the lives of adoptees, particularly those not being raised in their birth countries. Additionally, it offers a brief glimpse into Haitian and African lifestyles, from a unique perspective.
Alysia lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and four children. She writes about family life, parenting issues, and other things of interest to her on her blog, Michigal.
Review copy was provided by Elsie Augustave Compensation was received but in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review.