Katie, Pin, Stela
“Behind the Mountains” by Edwidge Danticat
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The diary begins in October 2000, when Haiti is filled with violence and general unrest with the elections taking place and the promise of many changes. Celiane tells her own story, about life behind the mountains, far from the city and the problems there. Forced by economic circumstances to seek work in America, her father has been gone for three years and the family anticipates joining him when proper visas can be arranged. When Celiane is awarded a notebook from her teacher she decides to keep a journal of her thoughts on the events leading to her trip to America. Through Celiane’s writing we are introduced to her family and all the places that they visit, including Port Au Prince during election time, where a bomb almost kills Celiane and her mother. Their struggles in Haiti come to a close as they travel to meet father in New York. After the initial joy at the reunion, their family life starts to unravel. Celiane's brother Moy is not eager to quietly obey his father. It is freezing cold, school is difficult and lonely, and the parents work long hours. The father means well, but he frankly is out of touch with his children and how much older they are, especially his son, who now is a young man after all and not the young teenager the father left behind in Haiti so many years ago. The family finds that there are challenges to face and new struggles begin as they have to become accustomed to American life.
Behind the Mountains is set in Haiti and New York. The contrasts between the two settings and cultures are vivid and it is clear that it is difficult to find your way in a foreign country. Danticat brings her own firsthand knowledge of Haiti and immigrating to America to this story, told in diary format.
Behind the Mountains explores the themes of coming of age, family relationships, separation and reunification, as well as immigration and cultural identity.
Haiti is a country marked by its political unrest and economic depravity as a result of years of dictatorship, government corruption, and a gap between the wealthy elite and profitable cities and the poverty stricken non industrial provinces. Although fiscally poor, Haiti is a culture rich in its language, folktales, customs, and community.
After reading this novel, students can research Haiti and its history, Haitian culture, Haitian immigration. Reading this novel may help to increase student awareness at the adjustments faced by immigrants. The question of why people immigrate may be raised (people seeking opportunity vs. people forced to leave due to persecution). Students may research immigration to the US from countries other than Haiti (ex. interview family and friends about their immigration stories). Students may be asked to keep a reading journal to record their reactions to the reading and discussions of the story (details about characters, settings, themes etc). Other related topics students may research: location, economy, government, refugees, culture-shock, duality of cultures, assimilation, integration…