A novel set against the violence of 1990s Columbia follows a sheltered girl and a teen maid, who forge an unlikely friendship as the families of both struggle to maintain stability amidst Bogotâa's rapidly escalating violence. - (Baker & Taylor)
A debut novel by an award-winning writer is set against the violence of 1990s Columbia and follows a sheltered girl and a teen maid, who forge an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both. A first novel. - (Baker & Taylor)
“One of the most dazzling and devastating novels I’ve read in a long time...Readers of Fruit of the Drunken Tree will surely be transformed.”
--San Francisco Chronicle
“Simultaneously propulsive and poetic, reminiscent of Isabel Allende...Listen to this new author’s voice — she has something powerful to say.”
A mesmerizing debut set in Colombia at the height Pablo Escobar's violent reign about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both
Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to their gated community in Bogotá, 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 inextricably linked coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras has written a powerful testament to the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation. - (Random House, Inc.)
*Starred Review* In this incomparable debut novel, Contreras draws on her own experience growing up in turbulent 1990s Bogotá, Colombia, amid the violence and social instability fueled by Pablo Escobar's narcotics trafficking. In vividly rendered prose, textured with generous Spanish, Contreras tells the story of an unlikely bond between two girls on the verge of womanhood: Chula, the daughter of a middle-class family, and Petrona, the teenager hired to serve as the family's maid. While Chula's family can afford to protect themselves behind the suburban walls of a gated community, Petrona must support her many siblings as they struggle to survive the inner-city slums. Despite their differences, and driven by Chula's curiosity about Petrona's odd habits, the two become inseparably close until decisions must be made that will alter their futures forever. Contreras' deeply personal connection to the setting lends every scene a vital authenticity, and a seemingly unlimited reservoir of striking details brings the action to life, like the trumpets and accordions on Christmas Eve, or the messy Afro of Petrona's suspicious new boyfriend. A riveting, powerful, and fascinating first novel. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
Six new authors you need to know
Become a fan from the very beginning, as these six outstanding new novelists make their debuts with deeply emotional narratives peopled with tremendous characters that will leave you aching for more.
IF YOU LEAVE ME
By Crystal Hana Kim
For fans of: Lisa See, Amy Tan, Toni Morrison and Jesmyn Ward.
First line: "Kyunghwan and I met where the farm fields ended and our refugee village began."
The book: In war-torn Korea, Haemi and Kyunghwan find love in a refugee village, but honor and duty take precedence when a wealthy man begins courting the spirited Haemi.
The author: Winner of the PEN America's Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, Crystal Hana Kim is a contributing editor for Apogee Journal and lives in Brooklyn.
Read it for: Lyrical prose that offers an unflinching look at motherhood and the aftermath of American imperialism.
By Zoje Stage
For fans of: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and movies like The Babadook, The Bad Seed and The Ring.
First line: "Maybe the machine could see the words she never spoke."
The book: Upscale parents grapple with an inexplicable and unremitting evil—in the form of their 7-year-old daughter.
The author: Zoje Stage is a former filmmaker and screenwriter who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Read it for: One more book to talk you out of procreating.
FRUIT OF THE DRUNKEN TREE
By Ingrid Rojas Contreras
For fans of: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.
First line: "She sits in a plastic chair in front of a brick wall, slouching."
The book: Two coming-of-age stories—that of rich city girl Chula and her maid, Petrona—overlap during Colombia's violent 1990s.
The author: A Bogotá native, Ingrid Rojas Contreras and her family fled to Los Angeles when she was 14. She now writes for HuffPost and NPR, and teaches writing to immigrant high schoolers in San Francisco.
Read it for: A first-hand glimpse into the plight of vulnerable Colombian children in the recent past.
THE SHORTEST WAY HOME
By Miriam Parker
For fans of: Camille Perri, Elin Hilderbrand and Stephanie Danler.
First line: "I would have never predicted that a winery could change my life."
The book: A business school graduate lands a coveted New York investment job, but her heart is set on a path less traveled (quite literally) in the wine country.
The author: Miriam Parker has worked in publishing for more than 17 years and is currently an associate publisher at Ecco. She lives in Brooklyn with her dog, Leopold Bloom.
Read it for: The love of wine, and the inspiring tale of taking chances and dreaming of a life more rewarding than a nine-to-five job.
LET ME BE LIKE WATER
By S.K. Perry
For fans of: Mitch Albom, Anne Tyler and Rachel Khong.
First line: "I was sitting on a bench at the beach when Frank told me I'd dropped my keys."
The book: After the death of her boyfriend, 20-something Holly finds solitude and hope at the seaside in Brighton, in particular through a new friendship with an elderly, retired magician.
The author: The author of the poetry collection Curious Hands: 24 Hours in Soho, S.K. Perry was long-listed for London's youth poet laureate in 2013.
Read it for: A sense of comfort, and for a reading experience as soothing and cathartic as ocean waves lapping at your toes.
By David Chariandy
For fans of: Zadie Smith, Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn.
First line: "Once he showed me his place in the sky."
The book: The lives of two Canadian brothers are forever changed after a violent shooting draws additional police scrutiny to their neighborhood.
The author: David Chariandy grew up in the same Toronto public housing as the family in Brother. He currently teaches English at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. He has been previously published in his native Canada (the critically acclaimed novel Soucouyant), but this is his first novel to be published in the United States.
Read it for: A poignant and timely look at community, family and race in a setting that will be new to many American readers.
August is First Fiction Month at BookPage! Click here to read all our First Fiction coverage on the blog; click here to read our most recent coverage of debut novels.
This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.
Kim photo credit Nina Subin.
Stage photo credit Gabrianna Dacko.
Contreras photo credit Jeremiah Barber.
Parker photo credit Shannon Carpenter.
Perry photo credit Naomi Woddis.
Chariandy photo credit Joy von Tiedemann.
Copyright 2018 BookPage Reviews.
The perils of day-to-day existence in late-20th-century Colombia—a time of drug lords, guerrillas, kidnappings, and car bombs—are glimpsed through the eyes of a child and her family's teenage maid, whose relationship exposes two facets of the class divide. Choosing a young girl to deliver a perspective on political chaos and terror is a mixed blessing in Contreras' debut, set in Bogotá in the lawless era of Pablo Escobar. Her chief narrator is 7-year-old Chula Santiago, whose dreamy insights and immaturity both intensify and limit what the narrative can offer. Chula is the bright younger daughter of an oil worker employed by an American company and whose income allows the family to live in the relative safety of a gated neighborhood. The Santiagos' maid, Petrona Sánchez, introduces a different perspective. Her family has been destroyed by the paramilitary that burned down their farm and abducted her father and elder brothers. Now Petrona, her mother, and her siblings live in "a hut made of trash" in the capital's slums, prey to gangs, drugs, and thugs. While the two girls develop a bond, their separate experiences include political assassination, desolation, addiction, and dangers of many kinds alongside the fancifulness, games, and easy, often thoughtless distractions of childhood. Chula and her sister are indulged by their parents and leave town when threats appear at their most extreme. Petrona, struggling to support her family, falls under the sway of a shady but charismatic boy, Gorrión. Through Chula's eyes, events take place in a drifting, foreshortened present, and her incomprehension at times denies the story a quality of three-dimensionality. But a sudden gear change reorders matters, plunging the narrative into a flurry of dangerous developments from which everyone emerges redefined. A tragic history is filtered through fiction, and the results are patchy: sometimes constrained by invention, sometimes pierci n g. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews
Already the winner of several honors (e.g., a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellowship), Bogotá-born Rojas Contreras draws on her own life to chronicle the relationship between seven-year-old Chula, sheltered within her gated community from the violence of 1990s Colombia, and the family's new teenage maid.
Copyright 2018 Library Journal.
Library Journal Reviews
Based on the author's experiences growing up in drug war-torn Bógota in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this moving story is told in the dreamlike voice of seven-year-old Chula, who lives with her sister, Cassandra, and their proud, personable mother in a rich neighborhood while their father is away working in an oil field. Then 13-year-old Petrona, whose now poverty-stricken family was ripped apart by guerillas, comes to work for them. Enamored of Petrona, Chula sets out to discover all she can about the girl and her new, dangerous boyfriend, no matter the cost to her own safety. Young Chula also harbors morbid fascinations with bloody tales of local car bombings and follows politics with as much fervor as she does telenovelas. Rojas Contreras's narrative presents a Colombia different from that portrayed in popular media, such as Netflix's Narcos. She does an excellent job of articulating the complicated political situation and illustrating the heartbreaking day-to-day reality for children. VERDICT A fascinating, poetic read from an up-and-coming author. For fans of literary fiction and libraries with immigrant communities. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/18.]—Kate Gray, Boston P.L., MA
Copyright 2018 Library Journal.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Rojas Contreras packs her coming-of-age debut full of details about life in early 1990s Colombia during the last year of Pablo Escobar's reign of terror. Seven-year-old Chula's sheltered life in a gated community with her mother and older sister Cassandra cracks open with the arrival of 13-year-old maid Petrona. Petrona comes from a nearby shanty town and fascinates the implausibly precocious Chula, whose greatest excitements are spying on the richest lady in their neighborhood and hunting ghosts. Chula's formidable mother, Alma, grew up in a slum and copes with standoffish and judgmental well-heeled neighbors while her husband works in the oil fields. The family temporarily flees to Alma's home village to escape Bogotá's escalating violence, while Chula and Petrona get drawn into a situation that will eventually pose a dire threat. Chula's fixation on the news allows smooth introduction of the historical events surrounding Colombia's instability and Escobar's eventual death. The skeletal chapters from Petrona's perspective provide some belated explanations for the danger she exposed the family to. This striking novel offers an atmospheric journey into the narrow choices for even a wealthy family as society crumbles around them. (July)
Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.