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.
“War always seemed distant from Bogotá, like niebla descending on the hills and forests of the countryside and jungles. The way it approached us was like a fog as well, without us realizing, until it sat embroiling everything around us.”
Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Fruit of the Drunken Tree
Fruit of the Drunken Tree is an exceptional, majestic and captivating book. Oh, and the cover is stunning and simply out of this world! This is Contreras’s debut novel, but I pray to the book spirits it is not her last. She weaves such a prolific story with intricate characters and gut-wrenching situations, which will remain with me for a long time. The novel takes place in Colombia during the violent drug lord years of the notorious Pablo Escobar. The story is narrated by seven-year-old Chula and the family’s live-in maid, thirteen-year-old Petrona. Chula is a precocious girl who is extremely observant, curious, and wise beyond her years. On the other hand, Petrona is the sole breadwinner of her family, lives in poverty and has an incredibly difficult life. Despite their differences, Chula and Petrona develop an unusual, yet genuine friendship. I find myself recommending Fruit of the Drunken Tree because it is such a beautifully written novel (and based on Contreras’s own life). Incredibly as amazing as this book is I would not have picked it up as quickly as I did if it weren’t for my wonderful bookish Instagram friends, Lupita Reads and Spines & Vines. It is also the September book for the #ReadAcrossInstagram in collaboration with Lit on H St, Salt Water Reads, and #Words.Between.Worlds. If you would like to join the fun, there’s still time! Grab a copy, participate and be a part of the discussion!