Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Title:  Fruit of the Drunken Tree
Author:  Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2018. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0385542720 / 978-0385542722

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "She sits in a plastic chair in front on a brick wall, slouching."

Favorite Quote:  "Papa had said that when people became old, they couldn't bring themselves to cry anymore, because they had cried continually, on and off, over a lifetime long with happiness and sorrow. He had said their bank of tears had gone dry."

First of all, the beautiful, vibrant cover gives no hint of the heartbreak and violence that lies under that cover. This book is the story of two little girls forced to grow up way too soon by a conflict that they do not understand. Set in the 1980s and 1990s in Bogota, Colombia, this book is based on an imagining of what did not but could absolutely have happened in the author's own life

Chula and Cassadras are the daughters of the house; they have comforts and a childhood. Petrona, on the other hand, is their mother's new maid. The book does begin at the end, for the beginning is an adult Chula remembering. The remainder of the book is alternating chapters of life from Chula's perspective and from Petrona's perspective.

The story is of the turbulent politics and violence in Colombia at the time, but through the eyes of these two girls, it is also about the divide between affluence and poverty:
  • Chula:  "... he would tell us that it was better to sleep alongside you own clean conscience than to be a parasite of the state or of the militarized groups who were just a different versions of a state."
  • Petrona:  'Imagine, a thirteen-year-old - the breadwinner of a house.' Mama said that when you had that kind of responsibility, it was difficult to be interested in abstract things like politics."
  • Chula:  "I thought about all the things I had to lose."
  • Petrona:  I knew that there was no gate surrounding the invasiones where Petrona lived, no iron locks on the doors, no iron bars on the windows. When I asked Petrona how she and her family stayed safe, she laughed. Then because I was embarrassed she shrugged her shoulders. She thought for a moment then said, 'There's nothing to lose.' 
To understand this book, you really have to understand the history of Colombia at the time. Violence and death was an everyday occurrence. Survival was not a given. Kidnappings and murders were commonplace.

Chula still has the protection of family and affluence. The impact is there for she is growing up in this environment, but at the same time, she is able to remain a child. Petrona, on the other hand, is a teenager with adult responsibilities to uphold and adult decisions to make. She is actually the "adult" to her younger siblings.

The story and the characters are heartbreaking. The book itself unfortunately is very slow reading. Since the book is the perspective of these two young girls, many of the bigger, historical events of the book happen outside of their lives and the impacts reverberates back to their lives. As such, the book seems to move from episode to episode but at the same time feels a bit removed. This is particularly true of the chapters from Chula's perspective because she is much more the child. I wish the book was more directly Petrona's story for that is the more compelling one. Much of Chula's time is spent contemplating Petrona's life and actions.

I am glad I read this perspective on a turbulent history. I just wish I had loved the book as much as I expected to and as much as the sad story of these two young girls deserved.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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