Review: Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

September 18, 2018
Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, InToriLex
Published By: Doubleday on July 31, 2018
Format Read: ARC Edition (304 pages)
Genre: Historical Fiction /Literary Fiction/ Own Voices
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Requested from Publisher
Fruit of the Drunken Tree
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.


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
when peremptory.
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 from DoubleDay in exchange for an honest review. **


Ingrid Rojas Contreras, InToriLex
Ingrid Rojas Contreras is an award-winning author who was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her essays and short stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, Guernica, and Huffington Post, among others. She recently received the Mary Tanenbaum Award for non-fiction, and the Audio Miller Prize from the Missouri Review. She has been a fellow at Bread Loaf Writer's Conference and the San Francisco Writer's Grotto, and has received scholarships and support from VONA, Hedgebrook, The Camargo Foundation, Djerassi Artist Residency Program, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. She is the book columnist for KQED, the Bay Area's NPR affiliate. She currently teaches writing to immigrant high school students as part of a San Francisco Arts Commission initiative bringing artists into public schools.

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