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
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...
Content Warning: Rape, Child Soldiers, Disturbing Violent Imagery, Extreme Poverty
Chula and Petrona are two young girls struggling to grow up in a increasingly dangerous country. Chula and Petrona meet when Petrona is hired to be a maid for Chula's family. The novel is told through Petrona and Chula's point of view. They perspectives worked well, contrasting the very different thoughts and obstacles these young girls faced to survive childhood. The novel details their experiences and the political turmoil involved throughout Columbia in the 90's. The prose was engaging and the author was able to create complex and memorable characters.
We shall eat more and we shall eat less. What at dinner you have fire, for breakfast you'll have water. What is left for time, time will take away. It is only death that doesn't have a remedy.
Many disturbing and unsettling things happen to Chula and Petrona's family and the author does a good job of describing it from a child's point of view. While the characters were described masterfully the plot did diverge and slow down in unexpected ways. As I was reading I kept hoping that it would all come together, but the ending wasn't that tidy. The diversity and unique voices in the book kept things flowing and me engaged. I learned more about Colombia and Pablo Escobar than I ever have before. Despite the slow parts of the book, I enjoyed it overall and will continue to look for more work by this author.
Multiply me when necessary,
make me disappear
Transform me into light when there is shadow,
into a star
when in the dessert
Recommended for Readers who
- want to read a coming of age story that explores, race, class and Colombian History
- enjoy reading about characters dealing with serious trauma
- appreciate character driven stories
**I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. **
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.
Sometimes we are drawn to books by the cover, by the name, or even just the description. Well, it could also be the author too. But when I saw the name of this book, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to read it. Then, I saw it was about Columbia and Pablo Escobar and I immediately went to my library to grab it.
It tells the story of one family living in Bogota and their maid. Oh yeah, and in the world of Pablo Escobar. The story alternates between the young girl in the family, Chula, and their live-in also very young maid, Petrona. The story is fiction but weaves in details of real life such as the terror placed upon people in Columbia by Pablo Escobar, the murder of an upcoming politician, and the violence that was part of every day life in Columbia in the early 90's. You could trust no one. Kidnappings were something that happened on a daily basis. Adults were taken by guerrillas. Little Chula wanted to go out one day wearing her hair in a pony tail but her mother screamed at her how easy it would be for someone to grab her by her pony tail and kidnap her. There was fear and poverty everywhere. And little Chula was obsessed with Pablo Escobar, especially after seeing what remained of a recent car bomb in her neighborhood. Eventually, they flee to the United States for safety, becoming refugees.
After all that...I found it just OK. The story could have condensed and tightened up quite a bit. There was way too much wandering going on. Sometimes I got confused a bit what was going on. I listened to the audio version and will only say I did not like it. I grabbed the print in the end. It seemed a bit slow to me at many times. I'm glad to read something that takes place (mostly) in Columbia, a place I don't think I have encountered in my reading. The author wrote this book, using part of what happened to her as a small child growing up in Columbia. I just think I expected more from this one after I read the description.