Before you read any further, you need to understand three things about this book: 1) It has been compared to Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, probably because it’s easy marketing and they’re all South American, but 2) That does NOT mean this book falls under magical realism, and 3) Just because a Latin American author wrote a Thing, it doesn’t automatically make that Thing magical realism (as many English-language readers on Goodreads mistakenly believe).
“There is a magical understanding of reality that is very specific to South American culture. This cultural perspective does not come from Magical Realism—rather it is the other way around: Magical Realism was inspired by this cultural perspective. In Fruit of the Drunken Tree I wanted to write a South American experience faithful to this cultural perspective without the fabulism of Magical Realism. To give you an example, in Isabel Allende’s excellent memoir, My Invented Country, when Allende is exploring Chile’s religious make-up, she mentions in passing that in addition to the country being largely fundamentalist, born-again, catholic, and atheist, there is also a profound cultural engagement with the idea that devils and evil spirits are real parts of reality. She explains, simply by saying, “My grandfather swore that he saw the devil on a bus, and that he recognized him because he had green cloven hooves like a billygoat.” Any South American can counter this anecdote with hundreds of her own. In Fruit of the Drunken Tree my characters live in this reality—they are beholden to that cultural tradition where the real is perceived within the shadows of the magical.”
Fruit of the Drunken Tree is told from the perspective of two young women: Chula, a girl from a rich family, and Petrona, the family’s maid.
Their stories are set during the era of Pablo Escobar in Colombia, and we experience most of the anxiety of the times through Chula’s eyes.
While most of what Chula talks about happens in her mind (things she overhears around the neighborhood or sees on TV), Petrona is the one who actually experiences the violence at a personal level, eventually having it follow her into Chula’s own home.
By the sounds of it, I thought this would be a harder book to read, in terms of emotional distress, but it really wasn’t. Ingrid Rojas Contreras is one of those authors that can write prose like poetry; and even when she’s discussing awfully violent events, you don’t feel traumatized, but you don’t feel detached either. She’s just excellent at writing complex feelings with tact and candor, yet without aggressively shoving your face into them and leaving you reeling for days.
This book is one of the best I’ve read in 2018 and it is has so much meaning and thought put into it that it’d be great to discuss at a literature class or at a book club.