Living alongside the violence of Pablo Escobar’s Colombia are two young girls whose lives collide in ways that neither of them will ever forget. Seven-year-old Chula Santiago lives in a gated community in Bogotá with her sister and parents, though her father’s work often takes him out of the city. She grows up in a ‘kingdom of women’, but her kingdom is haunted by stories of the car bombs and kidnappings that go on outside the walls of her community. Petrona is a teenage girl from an invasión, an impoverished area in the hills of the city, who comes to work as a maid for the Santiagos. Chula is fascinated by Petrona’s silence and as the two grow closer, Chula herself adopts this silence, keeping Petrona’s secrets as though her life depends on it. Petrona desperately tries to steer her younger siblings away from trouble, but she soon falls for a young man who sees her wealthy employers as the perfect target.
“I had risked everything for another woman’s daughter,
and nobody would do the same for me.”
I went into this book with high expectations and it didn’t disappoint. Watching Narcos piqued my interest in the story of Pablo Escobar but it was Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s News of a Kidnapping which showed me the real effect Escobar had on civilians on a day-to-day basis, and how commonplace kidnapping became in 1990s Colombia. When I heard about Fruit of the Drunken Tree I knew I had to read it, especially when I discovered that the novel had taken a lot of inspiration from the author’s own life. This definitely comes through in the novel; there’s an authenticity to the story that makes it deeply affecting.
The beginning of the novel is very character driven, fleshing out each player in the story and developing the relationships between them, whilst the latter half is full of action that had me struggling to put the book down. I was desperate to find out what was going to happen and was so attached to the characters by this point.
Chula’s narration has a childlike innocence to it yet she has a mature observance of the world, making her a fantastic if unreliable narrator. This unreliability added so much tension to the story, as young Chula would convince herself of what was going on with Petrona, only to have the intermittent chapters from Petrona’s point of view completely contradict Chula’s paranoia. However, as the novel went on it soon became that Petrona’s reality was far worse than Chula’s speculations. The relationship between the two was really interesting to watch develop as Petrona finds herself torn between protecting her family and protecting the family of another.
This is an amazing novel that illustrates the daily lives of the people living in Colombia during the time of Pablo Escobar from the perspective of the young girls that find themselves caught up in the violence of the drug trade. It’s a rich and deeply emotional story that stays with you long after reading.
Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Read for the Magical Readathon, Herbology exam.