Fruit of the Drunken Treeby Ingrid Rojas Contreras Published 31 Jul 2018
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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
Ok truth- I added this one based on its title. Oh yes I did. The reality is, its flower, if consumed, can make one act as silly as a drunk 😵 and eventually poison it’s victim. Enough said.
This is a story of a relationship between a girl and her maid. In the background, the civil war rages in Columbia. Pablo Escobar reigning terror over the country. The impact is devastating. Until it moves to the forefront and the little tranquility known for this family disappears and in its place the violence becomes the norm. A staged kidnapping which goes awry; a missing father; a traitor.
Not a place I would ever visit knowing its history of civil war. Sadly, not all can escape the tragedy that awaits them. A disturbingly fictional account based on reality.
A slow start but worth the patience. Rich in culture and description. A terrific debut.
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.
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.
Columbian-American author Contreras has set her poignant tale in Columbia during the rise-and-fall of Pablo Escobar (1989-1994). The country’s social and physical infrastructure is imploding—car bombings, gangs, random blackouts, and kidnappers. The police force is largely corrupt. Assassinations of key figures occur with disturbing frequency—Minister of Justice, the newspaper Editor-in-Chief, and even Luis Carlos Galan, the presidential candidate.
The author has the reader hear the story through the eyes of two children. Chula Santiago’s story begins when she is just 7-years-old. She is blessed to be living in a gated community largely impervious to the simmering violence just beyond its walls. Blackouts turn into nighttime flashlight games with much running and giggling with her older sister Cassandra. Juxtaposed to Chula, is the story of Petrona Sanchez, who lives in the Las Invasiones (the shanty town on the steep slope of a mountain). At the age of 13, her mother shoos her out of the house to get a job to help support the family; and ends up on the doorstep of the Santiago family to work as a maid. Chula and Petrona form an attachment of sorts. Chula is fascinated by Petrona—why does she talk so little? What kind of family does she come from? As for Petrona, the playfulness of the girls makes the dreariness of her own life feel so much more painful.
A couple of years pass, and Bogata is becoming ever more dangerous. Chula is injured from shards of glass when her window explodes from the percussive effects of a nearby car bomb. The Santiagos lose their water and now have to haul it in from elsewhere.
Cassandra has a habit of chewing the limbs off her Barbie dolls, but that doesn’t stop the girls from forming pretend paramilitary groups with them. [Who needs GI Joes?] As for Petrona, she has to deal with real paramilitary groups that result in the deaths of family members. Which group? It is hard to tell, there are so many—right-wing paramilitaries, left wing revolutionary rebels, drug trade cartels, and more. Each of these organizations need money and are willing to get it anyway they can—burglaries, extortion, and—you guessed it—kidnappings.
Antonio Santiago works in the oil industry, most recently for an American firm. Will he or his children be targeted? Of course! [Of note, Contreras points out in the Afterword that she was targeted to be kidnapped herself when she was growing up.] So—ultimately, this becomes a refugee story. What is left when you are forced to abandon home and country?
As for Petrona—it is hard to tell heroes and criminals apart when your family is suffering and slowly disappearing; “and I understood I had risked everything for another woman’s daughter, and nobody would do the same for me.”
Much like Columbia, the drunken tree is beautiful, dangerous and intoxicating. Recommend.
Multiply me when necessary. Transform me into light where there is shadow. — Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Fruit of the Drunken Tree
Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ debut novel, “Fruit of the Drunken Tree” was inspired by the author’s own personal experiences. This is a beautiful, emotional, heartbreaking coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the beautiful, but violent Colombia in the 1990’s, at the height of druglord Pablo Escobar's violent reign. It’s a difficult read, there’s lot of devastating scenes that were hard to swallow; but the tone of the novel remains somewhat linear entirety of the book. Many of the chapters felt bit redundant, I felt like I was re-reading some chapters because the plots repeat itself few times. Hard to explain, but you’ll understand once you read the novel. I was expecting to be blown away, it fell little bit short of that, but It was the author’s mesmerizing, lyrical pose that kept me going.
Told in alternating first-person POV of curious & care-free Chula, youngest daughter of middle-class Santiago family, living in a gated-community and Petrona, a quiet live-in maid from guerrilla-occupied slum, living under the heavy burden of providing for her struggling family. As both girls' families scramble to maintain stability amidst the extreme violence & political turmoil — car bombs, kidnapping, and assassination, Chula & Petrona forges an unexpected friendship, entangled in dangerous situations & web of secrecy. Due to rapidly escalating conflict, Santiago family flees the country, eventually settling in LA; without the father at first who is thought to be captured & jailed, but does come to America many years later. However, Petrona is caught between providing for her family & dangerous love that pulls her into a wrong path with devastating & heartbreaking consequences. At 15, what Petrona goes through is absolutely heart-wrenching, it broke my heart. I couldn’t bare anymore danger & pain this young girl & her body had to dealt with, it is too much.
I thought the author has done a great job of interweaving seamelessly two very different, but inextricably connected coming-of-age stories during violent Columbia in the 1990’s. It was interesting to witness the turmoil through the eyes of two young girls & their war-torn childhoods. It’s a coming-of-age story, an immigrant story, a thrilling mystery, and a profound historical story — a story that deserves to be told & heard. The writing is excellent, Contreras is a phenomenal writer. I highly recommend this novel & you to listen to few of her interviews, she’s smart & fascinating person to listen to. Despite few rough patches, I could not put this novel down.
So the last two novels I’ve read were both fantastic debut novels by POC authors, set in different countries & time periods. It made me realize just how important & vital we have these talents in the contemporary literary world. The breadth of experiences & compelling voices we as readers are able to experience through their writing is unparalleled to other traditional contemporary novels.