Set in the Dominican Republic in the 1930s, The Farming of Bones tells the story of a young Haitian girl named Amabelle Desir. Orphaned by the age of 8, Amabelle works for Don Ignacio and his daughter. Although Don Ignacio and his daughter are important figures in Amabelle’s life, it is evident that Amabelle’s life revolves around her lover, Sebastien Onius. After the accidental death of one of Sebastien’s fellow cane workers, the Haitian’s distrust of the Dominican government grows, but this distrust is warranted. With news of the Generalissimo’s intentions to “cleanse the country,” Haitian workers attempt to return to their home country.
When complications separate Amabelle and Sebastien during their attempt to flee, Amabelle is desperate to find what has become of Sebastien. Accompanied by Sebastien’s friend, Yves, Amabelle makes her journey with the help of fellow survivors she encounters along the way. While escaping, the group must divide for their own safety. Upon reaching the town of Dajabon, Amabelle is disappointed to find that Sebastien is not there. While in Dajabon, Dominicans beat and torture Amabelle, Yves, and a fellow Haitian, Tibon, after recognizing their inability to pronounce “perejil” correctly, one of the most prevalent ways that the Dominicans determine the segregation of Haitians. On the verge of death, two remaining members of their group rescue Amabelle and Yves and bring them to the river that they must cross. Unfortunately only Amabelle and Yves survive the dangerous crossing, where 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.
Once Amabelle and Yves have healed, Yves offers to take Amabelle to his home. Upon arrival of the city, Amabelle and Yves settle in his home and try to rebuild their lives. While Yves finds solace in working in his father’s fields and becomes a successful landowner, Amabelle continues her search for Sebastien. After finding Sebastien’s mother and learning of the truth about Sebastien’s fate, Amabelle returns to her life with Yves. Although Yves and Amabelle try to find comfort in one another, they are unable to fulfill each other’s needs. Twenty years after her escape from Alegria, Amabelle decides to search for a connection to Sebastien by reliving old memories in places of the past. Despite reuniting with Senora Valencia, Amabelle is dissatisfied with the results of her search. In the final scene of the novel, Amabelle enters and rests in the Massacre River, winnowing through a handful of memories. Although distressed by loss, Amabelle finds the spiritual resilience to search for a new beginning.