Oh my gosh this book... I couldn’t put it down! I had some knowledge on what it was like to grow up in Colombia in the 80’s and 90’s thanks to some very close Colombian friends I lived with back in the early 2000’s (in Israel of all places), but obviously had never lived there or experienced any of the unrest or trauma that many Colombians considered everyday life. This book is definitely on my Top Ten of 2018. A must read.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree is the story of Chula Santiago and her family (her sister Cassandra and her mother and father), a more affluent Colombian family who live in a “better” area of Bogota. It is also the story of Petrona Sanchez, the Santiago’s young maid, who lives in one of the city’s slums. The story starts at the end, and then flies back to the beginning where we learn little by little, via Chula and Petrona, what happened to the family and to Petrona, and why.
The narrative is set in the late 80’s and early 90’s, centered around the insane amount of political unrest in the country at the time, with guerillas and paramilitaries, assassinations, drugs, poverty, kidnappings, bombs going off left right and center, and in the middle of it all Pablo Escobar. Fruit of the Drunken Tree is the story of growing up, coming of age in that climate, but also of war and trauma, seen through the eyes of children.
I loved reading through Chula’s eyes, her innocence and imagination are captivating, but so is her ability to see through a lot of the BS that goes on around her. She’s not perfect by any means, she’s spoilt, and sheltered, but completely endearing. Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s ability to build a world of rich layers, page after page, is wonderful - I felt like I was peeling back layer after layer, just as Chula begins to understand the realities of the world around her.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree isn’t by far an easy read, there is terror, trauma, and there are horrors nestled within the narrative of the girls’ everyday lives. But it’s a beautifully written story of friendship and growing up in a country under conflict.
Also, as a side note, this book is full of exceptional metaphors. They flow so naturally within the story that you only realize how powerful they are a few pages later, when you zip back to reread them. Magical realism is a constant thread throughout the story. Ingrid Rojas Contreras is such a talented writer, so inspiring.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the advance copy!