Friday, October 04, 2019

Colombia: Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Ingrid Rojas Contreras

I had read a book by a Colombian author early on in my world literature journey, but it was set throughout in Argentina. So it seemed appropriate to try again with something actually set in Colombia, and I found this in our local library.

It is set at the height of the time when the country is riven by violence and the name of the drug lord Pablo Escobar is on everyone's lips. Seven year old Chula and her older sister Cassandra live in an upper class gated community in the capital, Bogota, but outside their neighbourhood life is not so safe.

Petrona is a teenager from the city slums, where her family has fled after being forced off their farm in the conflict. Chula's mother hires her as a live-in-maid, and Chula tries to befriend her. At first Petrona speaks little, and Chula makes a game of counting the syllables in each sentence that Petrona speaks. Gradually Petrona warms to Chula, but there are other forces in her life, and the escalation of political violence leads them towards disaster.

Quite a few of the books I have read in this project have a background of violence. While the events described in this book were devastating, it was saved from being all gloom and doom by the perspective of the seven year old, which seemed to lighten the tone enough to make it more bearable to read. It is narrated from Chula's perspective as an older teenager herself, so has the benefit of both a child's perspective, and the viewpoint of the older Chula who is able to make sense of what happened.

While the story is a novel, it draws heavily on the personal experience of the author. Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia and now lives in California. Fruit of the Drunken Tree was published by Doubleday, New York in 2018.

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