Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 14 Aug 2018

Member Reviews

The heart wrenching and beautiful coming of age story follows in alternating voices, Chula and Petrona from Bogota, Colombia during the Pablo Escobar era. The metaphorical and literal depictions of Contreras work are vivid and wonderfully written.  

This story has a strong feminist voice and captures what life was like during this time period and its affect in both types of the social spectrum. 

Thank you Netgalley and Doubleday Books for early access to this galley.
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The first part is a slow burn, but I think it does a great job describing the setting (physical and emotional) of Colombia in the early 1990s. The ending was strong! I'm also very intrigued by the way the author's own life inspired the events of this book (be sure to read her note at the end).
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A rich girl, poor girl account of late twentieth century Columbia, Fruit of the Drunken Tree is a staggering emotional journey through the destruction of life in a time of war. It will give you a new perspective on why some people risk it all to come to America.

Someone you’ve never met can dominate your entire existence. Such is the case for Chula Santiago and Petrona Sanchez, who are growing up in the Columbia controlled by Pablo Escobar and his cohorts. Thirteen-year-old Petrona once lived on a struggling farmstead, but when the paramilitary came, they burned her home to the ground, took her father and two oldest brothers to work for them and left Petrona to care for her asthmatic mother and huge brood of younger siblings. They walk to Bogota, where Petrona takes a job as a maid to the Santiago family in order to make ends meet.

Seven-year-old Chula is fascinated by Petrona, who speaks little, dresses oddly and is so different than anyone Chula knows. Theirs is a household of women; Chula’s father, an oil worker, is away from home for months on end and it is only the maid, her mother and her sister Constance that Chula spends time with. Much of that time is spent watching television, where the name Pablo Escobar is associated with everything from car bombs to murdered politicians. It is this last thing which truly has an effect on Chula for she is at the rally where the popular liberal candidate Luis Carlos Galán is assassinated. Escaping that event is a nightmarish experience and the news following it only seems to grow worse and worse. As Chula hears of children dying while their parents tried to buy tickets to the circus, and as Petrona sees the young boys in her neighborhood turn into violent thugs, both girls start to realize that no future is guaranteed in a land where walking to the grocery store is a perilous undertaking that can be interrupted by gun fights.

Chula is a difficult narrator; young, spoiled and traumatized, her perspective on coming of age during a reign of terror is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it cuts through any romantic association one might have regarding what was happening. On the other, her immaturity sometimes undermines the serious, horrific nature of the events surrounding her. She is also a strong argument for vigilant parenting: left to her own devices far too often, she made poor choices that could have been circumvented had some adult wisdom been applied.

Petrona introduces only a slightly different perspective. While more mature and less sheltered than Chula, she too makes some unwise choices. She and her family live in a “hut made of trash” in the Hills (Bogota’s slums) and serve as easy prey for encapotados (guerillas), drugs, and the more benign but no less dangerous common criminals.  Her father told her that it was “better to sleep alongside your own clean conscience than to be a parasite of the state or of the militarized groups who were all just a different version of the state.” He encouraged her to earn what she had with “the sweat of her brow.” However, not working with these peoples is not an option she’s given. It is death or cooperation. When she becomes involved with the handsome Gorrión, she finds just how high a cost that cooperation demands.

Which is the point of Fruit of the Drunken Tree. For those living in that turbulent era, there were no good options. Wealth delayed the inevitable; it didn’t circumvent it. You were either the kidnapped or the kidnapper, killer or prey. Neutral parties got blown up in car bombs or shot in crossfire. It makes for a very thought provoking read, if not a very easy one.
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In 1994 ,my family traveled to Bogota ,Columbia where our computer was lifted right as we were getting into a car. Our driver was so frightened as he said that thieves always work with others, he immediately donned a garbage bag over his head being terrified that he would be identified . Such is the undercurrent of terror that lines this novel, so authentic and verifiably real. It is not until the end that I realized that this novel was inspired by her personal experience. 
Set in Bogota, Columbia the story is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Chula, a 7 year old girl and Petrona, a 14 year old teenager who comes to clean house for them. Superstitions permeate the novel, governing the extended family's attitude toward life. In addition, the violence of the time colors every word and sentence affecting how the children play,  what outside activities they indulge in and what roads they can travel. Sweet Chula has the beguiling nature of a naive child with a prodigious imagination. Petrona, is a poor child from the guerrilla infested invasiones, the favelas of the community. Struggling to support her large family, she falls prey to an easy way to make money. Her downfall becomes intertwined with the family's lives, until a devastating conclusion takes hold. My heart burst with love for all of these wonderfully drawn main characters and the stories of their immigrant experience comes at the most perfect and timely manner. If you have a heart, you need to read this novel..It may get broken along the way but ultimately finds a peaceful place.
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Though this story takes place in the 1990's in the times of drug lord Pablo Escobar in Bogotá, Columbia, it's lessons are current for us here in the USA. It centers on two young girls and how they affect each other and each others' families.

I actually finished the book a couple days ago. I needed time to think about how to review this. Besides what I said above I just couldn't decide. If you want to know more about the book go read the reviews on GoodReads. Many just write out the story themselves. Why bother with reading it with all that information? I don't like to include blurbs about the books I read. I figure there are plenty of those out there. My review is to tell future me what I thought and possible current events or life events and how they might have influenced my feelings. If that helps others, I am glad. So for my future self: remember when they separated babies from parents because of a need to get rid of illegal immigrants? How many of them were seeking asylum from life similar to what the characters in this book were living with? I have friends who lived through being held up by guerrillas. I don't believe that these people are taking away our jobs. Watch how the costs of foods go up as citizens take back the farming jobs. Just saying.

Anyway, this book was well written, at times even poetic. It kept me up as I couldn't leave the characters when it was well past time to sleep. I think everyone should read this book. Even if it doesn't change your point of view, it could help educate on the history and peoples of South America. And if it feels factual, like a true story, know that the author did live through a lot of what the book tells about. The girls playing with injured Barbies. The dreams of the girl's leg with sock and shoe that the main character saw on TV news minus a child's body. These are just a couple incidences that felt too real to be fiction.

When I rate a book with five stars I know that I will remember it. It affected me deeply.

I'm so happy that NetGalley had it for me to read for review.
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One of my best friends is Colombian and I've heard for years about his trips to Colombia to visit family so I was excited to get an ARC of Fruit of the Drunken Tree.

It's a quiet novel that goes back and forth between Chula, a young girl living in Colombia during the reign of Pablo Escobar, and Petrona, the teenage maid who's working to help out her family. Even though both protagonists are young, this doesn't read as middle grade or YA, but rather as an adult novel that uses the lens of children to view the world.

This is Ingrid Rojas Conteras' debut novel and I look forward to seeing what else she writes.
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There is a strong theme of individuality and individual responsibility in Western literature. We are shown, over and over, that we can be the heroes of our own stories. But in Fruit of the Drunken Tree, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras, it seems like none of the characters have free will. They are constantly at the mercy of others. This isn’t so surprising, given that the story is set in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Bogatá, Columbia—Pablo Escobar‘s last years of freedom and a time when multiple armed groups violently fought for control. Chula and Petrona, the protagonists of this affecting, tense novel, don’t have a lot of choice. Yet, they still struggle against their circumstances to stay alive and keep their loved ones safe.

Chula Santiago is the narrator for most of Fruit of the Drunken Tree. She tells her story from the safety of Los Angeles, years after the events of the novel. But her perspective so so visceral that I completely forgot that she would survive what happens. She looks back that the years after she turned nine, when a new maid named Petrona arrived and the family’s insulated bubble burst. Chula and her sister are spoiled and wild. They’ve grown up mostly under the careless supervision of their mother, while their father works for an American oil company and only visits every now and then. The girls play annoying pranks on their neighbors, try to find the Spirits of Purgatory to ask for supernatural favors, and generally try to keep themselves entertained while the larger armed conflicts rage around them.

Petrona has fewer opportunities than Chula. She lives in a slum. Her father and older brothers are dead. She is the oldest child still left with her mother and younger sisters. While she tries to follow her father’s ethically upright behavior, it’s not not enough (especially for a teenage girl) to work an honest job. But when she gets pulled into her boyfriend’s criminal activities, she’s suddenly in over her head. Her connections to the Santiago family make her a valuable contact for the boyfriend’s group of whatever they are. It’s hard to tell the difference between a gang, guerillas, and paramilitary fighters. Not that it really matters who they are. They’re more than willing to carry out their threats to get what they want.

Before long, Chula is trapped by panic attacks, depression, and anger while Petrona is caught by more physical dangers. Their circumstances seem to have taken all their choices away, much like the drunken tree that grows in the Santiagos’ front garden is rumored to take away people’s free will if they even breathe the scent from the flowers. The only way out for Chula and Petrona is through—if they can manage to live that long. Fruit of the Drunken Tree is written in compelling language that brought late 1980s/early 1990s Bogatá back to life, complete with devastating bombings, assassinations, glass at the top of walls around houses, and the strong feeling of desperate fear.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 31 July 2018.
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A coming of age story written during war time.  I loved the narratives in this book along with the characters.  Very well written and descriptive.
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Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

	Chula and Petrona couldn’t have come from more different circumstances. Chula’s father had a job that required him to leave for days to weeks at a time, but afforded Chula, her sister and her mother certain luxuries, like electricity and a maid. Petrona’s family lived in a hut on a hill in an invasíon. Petrona’s father and older brothers had been kidnapped years ago, and she was the sole provider for her sick mother and younger siblings. Petrona would come and work for Chula’s family during a time when the threat of kidnappings and Pablo Escobar were palpable everywhere. As their lives intertwined, the secrets that Petrona and Chula shared would eventually tear both families apart and force Chula’s family to leave Bogotá forever. 

	Fruit of the Drunken Tree is a really interesting novel. When the novel begins we know that Chula’s family is living in Los Angeles, and we know that Chula is keeping information regarding Petrona secret from the rest of her family but we have no idea what that information means. Immediately the story goes back in time to how Petrona and Chula met, and works forward from there. It’s made clear very early on how different the circumstances are for these two girls and also how dangerous the area is. The threat of car bombs going off in neighborhoods because of Pablo Escobar was real at that time and it led to a lot of tense, frightening times throughout the books. The tone of this novel was one of perpetual unease. The characters don’t know who to trust and that insecurity is leaping through the page. 

	I enjoyed Contreras use of a changing narrative between Chula and Petrona. The innocent, naïve narrative of Chula was balanced by Petrona’s more knowledgeable and self-aware narrative. Life experiences was the defining factor in how both of these characters approached decision making but it was obvious that neither was clearly aware of the severity of certain situations. I thought the world building in this story was very well done. There was a clear distinction between the circumstances of the two girls, highlighted explicitly by where they lived and the people they knew. 

	I would definitely recommend this novel. I thought the story was really well done. It took a while for me to become invested in this novel but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. The presence of Pablo Escobar throughout this story definitely had me on edge throughout. This is a time and place I couldn’t imagine being a part but reading this book was like being transported in time.
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Ingrid Rojas Contreras' book Fruit of the Drunken Tree explores two girls from different classes coming of age during the 1990s in Colombia, when the country became the murder capital of the world. Contreras captures the anxiety of the times while exploring class differences between Chula and Petrona. What makes this book sing is the authenticity of the friendship between the two girls from very different backgrounds and the way that friendship grows, changes, and is tested over time.
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I wanted to LOVE this book. I wanted it to be everything I imagined living in a desperate and impoverished country with high crime would be. It just fell a little flat for me. 

It's told through the eyes of Chula and Petrona, her live-in nanny. You read tales of drug lords, kidnappings, crime and even tales of hope. It just didn't feel like I was there. I wasn't swept away by tragedy and I didn't feel hopeful.

Although not a true story, it's based on the author's life. While I would never say it's not a true tale since I have never lived in Bogota, I just wasn't taken on the journey I was expecting.

I will say the writing is very well done and I will read more of the author's work.
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Most of this beautifully-told story takes place roughly 1989-1993, and it draws the politics of Colombia at the time into the lives of young Chula and her family and friends.  Chula's life is one of great privilege, and yet she is still in danger, aware of the unrest around her, and kidnapping, that ubiquitous threat in Colombia, affects her family deeply.  It's based on the experience of Contreras herself, and rings true, adorned with the drama of the imaginative child narrating the story.  Child narrators are, in general, problematic, but Chula is a believable, earnest voice.  I won't engage in the debate so common to stories like this, whether Chula noticed and understood too much, or whether she changed as she grew and matured, because the story is strong and well told without considering that debate.  It just works well and Chula's voice does not get in the way of the story.  Every once in a while, there is a chapter narrated by Chula's family hired maid, Petrona, who has far fewer resources and exponentially more worries than Chula and, being a few years older than Chula, Petrona is able to state things flatly without adornment or misunderstanding.  She adds clarity when Chula goes off the rails or is too confused to help us understand what's going on.  She also adds the important viewpoint of the powerless who intercept Chula's world but live in a very different reality.

We know from the first pages of the book that both Chula and Petrona will survive the events of the story, since it is introduced by Chula years later when she is an American citizen.  That let me relax into the story a bit, knowing that the story would be hard to read but not completely heartbreaking.  There is a particularly poignant moment near the end during which Chula's mother and Petrona's mother stand face to face in the street, angry, upset.  They both believe themselves to have lost everything and suffered terribly.  We the readers know that Petrona's mother is in a vastly worse situation, has suffered losses unimaginable to the other, richer woman.  But Chula's mother simply sees them on equal footing in suffering.  In that moment, my own status as a comfortable middle class American who has never known their fear, their loss, their pain was uncomfortable and laughable at the same time.  This story, told in our moment of focus on immigrants like Chula's family, is particularly powerful and timely.

I got a copy to review from Net Galley.
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A book you will not be able to forget based on the authors young life in Columbia the difficulties hardships adjustment.a literary book I loved hurt for and couldn’t put down.Thanks #doubleday #netgalley.
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Told in alternating perspectives by 7 year old Chula and her family maid Petrona, this book was an eye-opening look at life in Columbia during the Pablo Escobar reign. From car bombs to blackouts it is a life that is unimaginable to most and the fact that this story is based on the authors early life in Columbia makes it even more shocking. If you like reading about how others live, this is a great read.
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I have definitely never read a book like this before and I learned so much about Columbian history while reading. 

Chula and Cassandra are young when their mother hires Petrona to clean their house. What starts as a working relationship soon becomes much more than that for Chula - and getting close to Petrona will change their lives in ways they never could have imagined.

For the first several chapter of this book, I was intrigued by the beautiful writing and the well-done character development. It was a lovely book and I was enjoying getting to know about another culture. But as the book went on, that changed considerably.

Is it wrong to say I was not expecting this book to be what it was? I expected a deep, lovely, sweet book about a family accepting a young girl into their home. And for a long time, that's exactly what it seemed like. But the book got darker and darker as it went on, but in a really satisfying and meaningful way. I wasn't expecting to get so attached to these characters or to want to know so much more about the conflicts they experienced.

The author was especially masterful in showing that not everyone gets a happy ending. Some books end on a happy note, but it feels artificial. This book presents itself in the beginning as one that ends on a happy note (The family immigrated! The girl got married! There's a cute little baby!), but by the end, you understand that it's so much more complicated than that for our characters and there's so much more to consider when trying to understand their happiness. The ending is bittersweet and the author handled this perfectly - along with leaving some hope and change open for Petrona in the end.

I especially was intrigued by Pablo Escobar, who I know was a real person who really terrorized Columbia for years. Hearing old news reports is one thing, but reading about how one man tore apart so many lives and families puts things into a new context. I want to learn more about that period in Columbian history and not a lot of historical fiction books make me that excited to learn more. This book is fantastic in that regard - you're so wrapped up in the lives of the characters that you don't notice how much you're learning until the guerillas are a central part of the plot. I was slowly eased into learning more and now I want to keep going.

Highly recommended to lovers of Latin American literature and those with an interest in family dramas.
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I liked the premise of this book, but I struggled with the fact that both the narrators were children, and so the perspective felt limited, but not in a good way. I actually enjoyed Paloma's voice more, but was baffled by the way it was almost impossible to link events in one narrative to events in the other. It is possible that this may have been a form of commentary on how people see themselves and their lives, but it needed to be more explicit if it was.
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I don’t know why I struggled with this book at first, it wasn’t until about 100 pages in that I started to feel for the characters. The novel is set in Bogota during Pablo Escobar’s "reign" and centers around the Santiago’s; Mama, Papa, Cassandra, and Chula. The chapters are narrated by the youngest daughter, seven year old Chula, and the maid, Petrona, alternating back and forth. Mostly it’s told from Chula’s perspective, which while I loved this young girl’s sense of imagination I really wanted to know more about Petrona, who forms a close relationships with her. Once I was in the novel I really started to understand how the terror the country was facing saw no boundaries. Everyone was afraid of something, everyone was just trying to survive, and rightly so. One of my favorite lines that really hit me was when Mama heads to the Hills where Petrona lives; “When there’s a tempest, it comes down on all sides equally.”
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Loved this book. Didn’t want it to end.  Highly recommend.  

Love love love.  Incredible book.  Fabulous book club pick too
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This debut novel is narrated from the perspective of 7 year old Chula and set in the reign of terror by Pablo Escobar in Bogata, Columbia. The additional perspective is provided by Petrona, the 15 year old maid from the slums of Bogata working for Chula's family.

In the novel the author creates an astonishing picture of this time of instability and the contrasts between the rich and the poor in Bogota. It shows how their lives intermingle and impact each other and examines choices to be made especially by Petrona, who is torn between having to provide for her family and still being a child herself.

Overall a gripping piece of historical fiction inspired by the author's own life experience. Written in beautiful language and a somewhat dreamlike quality.
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Chula and her family live in Bogatá in a nice home with all the standard comforts. Just a few miles away, their young housekeeper, Petrona, lives in a makeshift hut in the hills with the remnants of her large family and no comforts. But the thing that connects them all is the violence of the time and place in which they live. Car bombs, kidnappings, drought, and hours-long bans on electricity equalize them all in the country where the paramilitary, guerrillas, and Pablo Escobar are constant threats to "normal" life.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras writes an engaging fictional novel set in the late '80s through the early '90s based on actual events in her own life and countless others living in Colombia. The story is told in two perspectives: nine-year-old Chula and fifteen-year-old Petrona, both of which are laced with an ominous expectation of something terrible looming just over the horizon. Events loop through past and present sometimes in limited, unconnected ways - typical of a young girl with limited experience and understanding.

The story is absorbing and suspenseful with characters I felt attached to even after the last word was read.

*Many thanks to NetGalley, Doubleday, and the author for providing me the opportunity to read and review this book.*
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