Fruit of the Drunken Treeby Published 31 Jul 2018
|Fruit of the Drunken Tree.pdf|
In the vein of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a mesmerizing debut set against the backdrop of the devastating violence of 1990's Colombia about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both.
The Santiago family lives in a gated community in Bogotá, safe from the political upheaval terrorizing the country. Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to this protective bubble, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.
When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city's guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona's mysterious ways. But Petrona's unusual behavior belies more than shyness. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction. As both girls' families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.
Inspired by the author's own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different, but inextricable coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras sheds light on the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation.
"Fruit of the Drunken Tree" Reviews
No matter who we are, what are race, religion, socio-economic background, we share some basic emotions and feelings. Fear, joy, love, jealousy, anger, sadness and hope are some of those emotions and feelings. What makes us different is our reaction to those feelings and the situations that brought about them.
Ingrid Rojas Contreras's debut novel, "Fruit of the Drunken Tree," takes us to the South American country of Colombia during the extremely violent and turbulent 1990's when drug-lord, Pablo Escobar, instilled fear among the natives as well as the world.
Drug kingpin Escobar was not the only threat Colombian residents had to live with. There were the communist guerrillas that were constantly trying to overthrow the government, kidnappings for ransom, other drug lords, smugglers, car hijacker bands, kidnappers that weren't guerillas, along with murders, robberies and so on. Some have described the nineties Colombia to the eighties Lebanon with all of the violence and corruption.
Contreras introduces us to the Santiago family who live in a "gated" community in Bogota. Children that live inside the gates are insulated from then outside world of violence. They have a life filled with more joy than sorrow, more smiles than tears and more sense of normalcy than those living outside the gates.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree is similar to the novel, "The Invention of Wings", as it is told from two perspectives. One is of young Chula Santiago, age seven, who lives with her sister, Cassandra, and parents inside "the gates."
Chula is a very observant, inquisitive child. She watches and observes everyone. Some of her observations seem wise beyond her years.
Chula's mother hires a new girl to be their maid. Thirteen year old Petrona, becomes the novels other storyteller. Petrona lives outside the gates in abject poverty and is the oldest girl in a family of nine children. She finds herself the breadwinner for the family.
Petrona lives in a world of fear, death, poverty, rape, hunger and sadness.
Contreras uses real events in this fictional tale. She is a fantastic storyteller and her ability to seamlessly switch perspectives is a work of art.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree reminds me of standing in front of a great work of art trying to soak in every inch of it, knowing that you may have to go back again to get everything out of it.
Just a footnote to this tale is that the author discloses in the afterword, parts of the novel were based on true events that happened in her own life. Some people shut down and never share traumatic events. Contreras not opens up, she gives us a book that will be read for years to come.
I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley. #Netgalley #FruitoftheDrunkenTree
First of all I think I’m in love with the cover of this book, what gorgeous color and pop this cover has! However the seeds from the “Drunken Tree” were used in making a very dangerous drug called “burundanga” used by many criminals in Bogota. “Victims who reported being drugged with burundanga woke up with no memory of sometimes assisting in the looting of their own apartments and bank accounts, opening their wallets and handing over everything, but that’s exactly what they had done”. So strong was the fruit of the Drunken Tree!
This novel is told from two perspectives. One of a young girl, Chula, living an easy going life in a grand house outside of Bogota, Colombia. At the time of the story she is age seven with an older sister, Cassandra, age nine. The family live in a gated community because there is so much gang activity and crime outside the area. They are quite isolated and play together, go to school on a bus and only shop in the few stores near their home.
The mother and wife in the story, Senora Santiago, was herself from a poor family but married a man who worked for an oil company. He was seldom home as he had to travel a great deal for his job. Mama was constantly trying to hire a live in maid for their home but they usually only lasted a few months. She felt it was her way of helping the less fortunate by trying to hire the girls from destitute families.Petrona was the newest maid she hired and is introduced at the beginning of the story.
Petrona tells the novel from her perspective. She is a very poor girl age thirteen who is required to work to try to support her large family at home. Her mother has become somewhat ill and much is expected of Petrona. Her older brothers have already joined the guerillas with much shame brought to the family. Despite warnings from her own family and Senora Santiago she is taken in by the attentions of a drug dealer, Gorrion. In the beginning he is attentive and charming but it is soon obvious why he is interested in Petrona.
I will leave you to discover the rest of this story of how many of the wealthy in Colombia got out and began to seek asylum in other countries including the United States. “The historical timeline between 1989 and 1994 was used sequentially, but time was compressed as the emotional timeline of the book required”. Pablo Escobar and his revolutionaries were coming into power and the police were corrupt.
Sadly this isn’t the first story of a country held hostage by drug cartels or revolutionaries and it reminds me of a book I read quite some time ago titled “Waiting For Snow in Havana:Confessions of a Cuban Boy” by Carlo Eire. If you enjoyed this book you might want to look into that novel which was quite well written.
At the end the author shares the fact that most of the story is indeed based on her own and her family’s life experiences. It is a very interesting footnote to the story.
While I enjoyed this historical novel I did feel that it dragged a little in the middle and I would have enjoyed further development of characters. This is a debut novel and I look forward to more from this talented author.
I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through Edelweiss.
Thank you so much Doubleday Books for providing my free copy of FRUIT OF THE DRUNKEN TREE by Ingrid Rojas Contreras - all opinions are my own.
This is a gorgeous, heart-wrenching debut that I completely devoured. Set in Bogotá, Colombia, in the 1990’s, the story begins with seven-year-old Chula Santiago and the Santiago’s maid, thirteen-year-old Petrona Sánchez during the time of Pablo Escobar, guerrilla warfare, corruption, the imminent threat of violence, kidnappings, and car bombings. This is a coming-of-age story about two young girls from two very different worlds with an incredible bond. Chula is sheltered and comes from a family of means while Petrona’s family suffers with extreme chaos and poverty. Chula and Petrona are two vibrant and captivating characters whose perspectives alternate throughout. Also, a very interesting fact is that the story is inspired by Contreras’ own life, so needless to say, I could not put this book down.
Contreras writes with lush, poetic prose and brilliant authenticity. She captures Chula’s fear, imagination, bewilderment, and credulousness, all the while showing how Petrona is plagued with responsibility and the pressure of having to grow up way too fast. Although Chula is the primary narrator, reading from Petrona’s perspective adds a level of depth to the story that I enjoyed. The friendship between Chula and Petrona is compelling and propulsive, as their two experiences are very different and Chula’s cloistered point-of-view was almost painful to read. FRUIT OF THE DRUNKEN is an impressive, thought-provoking novel with vivid and descriptive language that kept me engaged until the very emotional end.
via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/
"Mamá said Papá had to work far away because there were no jobs in Bogotá, but all I knew was sometimes we told Papá about things, and sometimes we didn’t."
The Santiago’s lives behind a gated community may as well be a different world entirely from where their new, thirteen year old maid Petrona comes from. Despite their differences, or perhaps because of them, Chula is drawn into a friendship with her. Where Chula and her sister Cassandra spend their days full of mischief, harassing the local ‘witch’ and letting their wild imaginations run free, Petrona’s life is spent working for her poverty striken family, consumed with fears about her brothers and sister, all too aware of the drug lords that swallow young men, seducing the poor with food, televisions (even if they don’t work), and promises of power. The threat of danger, of death is nothing for a boy to fear when compared to the present suffering and humiliation of their circumstances. A hungry belly is a beast, a desire for respect and strength is a lure used to tempt the young into a life of crime. Petrona will protect her siblings, she must, even though she must sacrifice her youth, her happiness. Even if her brother spits at her, shames her.
Kidnappings by guerrillas for ransom are a constant threat, everyone knows someone who has been kidnapped even Chula’s own sister nearly fell victim in her infancy to abduction. Chula’s Mamá extends help to that other world, similar to the place she herself hails from, by hiring young girls desperate to feed their families. She knows that not all can be trusted, however, that the ‘help’ is more often than not linked to criminal activity. Petrona surely won’t last, not with her silent ways, her fearful eyes. The sisters begin to watch her, like big game, but it’s Chula who wonders at the thoughts in Petrona’s head. Charmed by the mystery, could her silence be a ‘spell’, the youthful fancies of their minds makes for many antics through the novel, getting them into dangerous situations. The playfulness of their days makes the dreariness and shock of Petrona’s missing childhood freedoms that much more harsh. Watched over by an astute mistress, Petrona mustn’t fail, she needs every bit of her earnings to feed her family, to be the ‘head’ of the house that her brothers have failed at.
Chula’s parents are rarely together, with her father away working hard. Mamá is a beautiful woman, one every man notices, a woman with her own needs and desires. A woman who runs the house differently when ‘Because Mamá grew up in an invasion she prided herself in being openly combative, so people who pretended to be weak disgusted her.’ Both parents are wrapped up in wars and politics that Chula is too young to understand, even if she finds herself interested, longing to be as informed and clever as her father. Petrona’s existence is nothing like theirs, she lives in a home made of garabge.
The day her ‘bleeding’ came, her mother informed her she was to marry or go to work. Raised to be the little mama of the house, her life is surrounded by worn out women, broken people, those worse off driven to begging. Boys are meant to focus on an education, the girls are meant to support them with hard work. Some end up drug addicted or working for druglords, others dead. She knows she must work her fingers to the bone, be brave so the Santiagos keep her on as maid. Petrona’s family is interested in everything she has to confide about the wealth of the Santiagos from what they eat to the size of their home. Despite her promise to keep their hungry bellies fed, she knows it may not be enough to keep her little brother from the comforts that the encapotado (covered ones) can seduce him with. Violence and shame will come to her home, despite the sweat on her brow from her hard work.
The Santiagos aren’t as immune to the threat of violence as they think, and it escalates. Mamá’s burning sage to ward off evil may not be enough to keep her girls safe nor will the tall retaining walls the government built to keep the rich safe from poor people like Petrona. Car bombs, the threat of Pablo Escobar, all of it is creeping closer and closer to the rich, proving it cannot be contained, escaped. Superstitions dominate Chula and Cassandra, belief that protection from witches and all evils of the world are possible but Petrona knows of no spells to afford her protection. Petrona’s desperation leads her to the flowers of the drunken tree; a wonderful tie to the title of the novel.
Petrona’s state of despair after a loss makes her heart ripe for first love in the shape of a man named Gorrión. Is he salvation? Destruction? Her choices and entanglements lead to consequences that touch them all. Just what will a young woman do to crawl out of the slums, to attempt to conquer the pit of misery that has stolen so much from her. Where has hard work and loyalty gotten her? Two families have to find ways to survive as the extreme violence of Colombia escalates each day, but can they? Following Petrona was far more fascinating than Chula’s life, but that is the point. Chula is seduced herself by the mystery of the young maids existence. Petrona’s youth and innocence betrays her, but with limited choices how could she have done anything differently, how could have the wisdom to know what the cost will be? How could she know if she’ll be saved or find backs turned on her?
Power struggles carry the novel, not just in politics and crime but within ones own family, within the class system. What is left when you start with nothing, everyone you love is taken from you? A beaten people, forced to bend to those who have everything. A place where hero and criminals are hard to tell apart for people who are suffering and everyone slowly disappearing. What is left when you had everything and are forced to abandon your home and country? Forced to start all over again, separated from your husband, with no idea if he is dead or alive.
This is a unique novel that is a coming of age for two girls from completely different worlds. It is a story of survival, of upheaval. The novel crawls at times, but it’s interesting how everything that is happening is perceived in different ways not just between Chula and Petrona but between Chula, her sister and their mother. We don’t understand things the same way as the ‘grown ups’, certainly not the scope of danger. Nothing can return to what it once was, not even when the family is ‘together’, and Chula’s reaction to her father is genuine. I wish I could go into that more, even though it’s such a short part of the novel, it effected me as much as the horrors that occur for Petrona, but I don’t want to ruin the novel.
The ending is as it should be, it isn’t seamless. There remains a lost feeling but it works for me.
Publication Date: July 31, 2018
Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia, and this is where her remarkable debut novel, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, takes place.
In a time when Pablo Escobar, infamous drug lord and head of one of the most dangerous criminal families in the world, was at the height of his power, seven year old Chula and her family enjoy relatively safe lives. That is until Chula’s curiosities about their new maid, Petrona, get the better of her. Petrona and Chula develop an unlikely and heartfelt friendship despite their differences.
Chula lives with her sister and parents who enjoy carefree lives, aside from Chula’s father often traveling for work. But Petrona goes home to a very different world when she leaves the safety of working for Chula’s family. Petrona and her family live in a poor, guerrilla-held area of the city which is unprotected from the car bombs and kidnappings which occur more frequently as the story progresses.
The differences between the lives of Petrona and Chula are stark; Petrona’s life is a mystery that Chula feels driven to uncover, despite the dangers. Their relationship is illustrative of the real challenges that inequalities in class and socioeconomic status can often pose.
When I began reading this book, it was these differences in the main characters and their situations that most interested me. I knew there was more lurking just underneath the surface. I appreciated that Fruit of the Drunken Tree had me questioning: What makes a family? What can friendships overcome? What would I sacrifice for others? For safety? For love?
As I read further, the layers of the book had me reflecting on the toll violence plays in societies in general, but especially on women and girls. Women are often forced to make impossible choices in times of war and violence; girls, in turn, carry incredible burdens of fear and responsibility much bigger than themselves.
During the time the story takes place, violent conflict in Colombia had already been raging for decades. Right-wing paramilitaries began fighting against the existing left-wing revolutionary rebels; the drug trade and cartels, like the one led by Pablo Escobar, added another layer to an already deadly situation. Despite the seemingly safe existence that many middle- and upper-class Colombians lived at the time, the fighting was never far from the minds or realities of many.
It is so compelling to me that Escobar, like many other larger-than-life men throughout history, was hated by some but still loved by others, even considered a Robin Hood-style savior. He was a magnetic yet terrifying figure who evaded capture for many years.
Bottom line: Ingrid Rojas Contreras is just a fantastic storyteller. Her characters and the plot are fully and meticulously developed while the perspectives of the story switch seamlessly between Chula and Petrona. I felt invested in the characters, their lives, and their survival. This is one of Rojas Contreras’ true strengths.
The result is a full, rich tapestry of authentic interactions and emotions both among the characters and with their reader. Fruit of the Drunken Tree is an outstanding debut; if you appreciate raw yet flavorful storytelling, robust storylines, or Latinx literature, I highly recommend it.
Read the full review at http://www.karlajstrand.com/2018/08/0...