Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 14 Aug 2018

Member Reviews

Fruit of the Drunken Tree is so beautifully written; Contreras immerses you in 1990’s Columbia and the unlikely friendship of two young girls from very different parts of the same world. Unfortunately, this one just really didn’t click for me. It is definitely a slow read and was honestly hard to pick up a lot of the time. I do think I’ll try and re-read in the future, but for now this one didn’t do it for me. I definitely think it’s worth giving a shot when you feel like a slower read might work for you.
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Four stars: A moving and informative journey that exposes the ugliness of Columbia’s past.

It is the nineteen nineties in Columbia. It is a dangerous time as Pablo Escobar continues to outsmart the authorities. Escobar is a prominent drug lord with a larger than life reputation, but in his wake he leaves poverty, corruption and rampant kidnappings. The country is corrupt and at war as factions of guerrillas kidnap prominent citizens for ransom money. It is a terrifying time, but seven year old Chula and her older sister Cassandra, live in the relative safety and comfort of a protected gated community. Things change when their mother hires a new maid. Thirteen year old Petrona comes from abject poverty. She bears the heavy burden of trying to protect her family and provide for them. After time, Chula and Petrona form a friendship that will soon be tested. Will their friendship survive?
What I Liked:
*The Fruit of the Drunken Tree was a powerful and informative read that exposes the horrors that occurred in Columbia when Escobar was at the peak of his power. This is a tale of heartbreak, loss and sacrifice. 
*The story centers around two very different girls. Chula is seven years old, living in a wealthy community. She has a life of privilege, yet she isn’t immune to the horrors that are going on just outside her door as people are losing their lives in bombings and kidnappings. I liked Chula’s wide eyed wonder, her curiosity and her strong moral compass. I liked watching her grow.
*Petrona is the soul of this book. Her story is so much different. She comes from a poor family that has been rocked by tragedy after tragedy. At thirteen, the responsibility of trying to care for her remaining family members falls on her thin shoulders. She steps up finds and job and works hard. She believes in honest labor, and she does everything she can to stay on the straight path until she can’t. My heart broke for Petrona, especially after what happened to her when she decided to do the right thing. I wanted things to be better for her. 
*This is a fascinating book. I know very little of Columbia’s history, and this book exposes how dangerous life was in Columbia during Escobar’s reign of terror. I appreciate that the author shed light on what life was like in Columbia, and I especially liked that this story was in part based on real life experiences. 
*This is a book of ups and downs. It ends with one of the girls finding safety and reunification, while the other does her best to put her life back on track. It is hopeful and sad at the same time. I wish I could better explain this book. It is a story that you should read. 
*I listened to the audiobook version. The narrators both did a wonderful job with the voices, and I liked that they brought the characters to life. 
And The Not So Much:
*While I had no trouble immersing into the story, after awhile I began to struggle with the flow of the story. The story doesn’t have a cohesive easy to follow time line, and I couldn’t figure out where the story was going, especially when it came to the trip to see Chula’s grandma. I wish the book had a tighter plot. 
*Petrona’s portion was far more interesting than Chula’s, and I found myself wanting to hear far more from her than Chula. 
*The book ends with hope and heartbreak, and I was left wondering who things are in Columbia today. Are they better, worse, the same?
*This book is tough to read at times. There are mentions of rape, violence, kidnappings and drug use. 

Fruit of the Drunken Tree is a powerful and moving read full of heartbreak and hope. This is a book that takes you back to the tumultuous period in Columbia during the nineties when Pablo Escobar, a prominent drug lord, brought terror, corruption and crime to the country. This book follows two young girls from very different walks of life. It is a glimpse into a tragic time, and a story of how two girls fought to stay safe. Read this. 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own, and I was not compensated for this review.
Posted@Rainy Day Ramblings.
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This is story takes place during an interesting historical period which I knew little about. However, it often felt meandering and I thought it could have been shorter. Some characters and events just seemed unnecessary. The characters who were important could have been developed more as well. Overall, I thought it was an interesting read though. I think it will be a great read for fans of historical fiction, or are interested in the history of this region.
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What an incredible book. This family tale was so beautifully written and so engaging that I could not stop reading it.
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I picked this book with high hopes. I am interested in reading about Colombia during the Pablo Escobar's years since I am a fan of Narcos. I will be honest I couldn't connect with the characters of this book.  It felt like something was missing. I DNF after 20%. 

I may try to read this book again in a few months since perhaps I wasn't on the right mood to read it.
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Amid the horror fueled by Pablo Escobar in Columbia during the 1990, an unusual friendship is struck between a maid from the terrorist countryside and a young girl who lives with her mother and sister in a walled community.  Although fictional, many of the events that are the backdrop of the story are factual.  Contreras writes elegantly with much of the story taking place in the mind and dreams of the young girl and the maid.  The characters are multidimensional including the mother and sister. The oppressive nature of the country predicament is shared by those who are ravaged by the FARC, poverty, insulated community, and family ties. Thanks to Net Galley and publisher for this electronic copy.
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A story about kidnappings and FARC guerillas as told through the eyes of a Third grader and her young family maid. The voice of a child is difficult to depict and there wasn't enough distinction to tell the difference between the two, Chula and Petrona.  Class, relationships and deception intertwine to make an interesting entry in historical fiction.

Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley
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This narrative follows alternating perspectives of two young women in Colombia during Pablo Escobar’s reign of narcoterrorism. Chula lives a comparatively privileged life with her family, and her story intersects with that of Petrona, living a troubled life in an invasione in Bogota. Petrona becomes employed as a maid in Chula’s household, and we glimpse a snapshot of their lives as they each are impacted by Escobar and their relationship of sorts with each other. The depth of this narrative is in the experiences shared by both women, and the course this points them in for the rest of their lives.

Much of the early novel is immersed in detailed descriptions of each of their lives and the Bogota of their late childhood/early teen years. For me, the writing was at its most powerful towards the end of the novel when the chapters became much shorter, the descriptions more sparse, and the author was able to say far more with the brevity of her prose. The confusion written into some of the more fast paced scenes within the narrative gave a sense of the frantic mood and desperation of the times, but as a reader sometimes lost me in the blur of details.

Definitely read the author’s note at the end of this novel, and I highly recommend listening to the @thereadingwomen interview with the author that was released last week. Thanks to @barterhordes for buddy reading this one with me, and to @netgalley @doubledaybooks for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Set in the volatile reign of Pablo Escobar in Colombia, this is the story of two girls and an unlikely friendship while growing up in a violent community. Seven year old Chula lives in a gated community in a relatively safe bubble. Petrona is hired as a maid for the family and lives in the slums. The story is told in both perspectives and it was an interesting take on a volatile time, thanks to the authors first hand experience. This was a beautifully written story yet there was a disconnect for me. I think it had to do with the 7 year old perspective- the writing did not attest to a 7 year old mind. Vocabulary and thoughts were not true to the age and it was hard for me to get around that. Thank you @doubledaybooks for this advance reader in exchange for my honest review.
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Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ debut novel is set in Colombia in the 1990s. A time of extreme political turbulence and violence, when Pablo Escobar reigned supreme. However, despite the violence, bombings and kidnappings, the Santiago family lives in a gated community protected from it all.  The children in the gated community live a sheltered and protected life, unaware of the political unrest occurring outside its gates. 

The Santiago family hires a new housekeeper, Petrona, the eldest of 9 siblings, who has been living in abject poverty.  Both Petrona and Chula, young daughter of the Santiago family, are seeking stability and safety for their families in a time of uncertainty.  The story is told from both Chula and Petrona's perspectives and highlights the difficult choices women are often faced with. Will definitely recommend this book to others - also love the cover!
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This is a powerful, and at times painful, look at the experiences of women during violent and turbulent times. Told from the perspective of nine-year-old Chula and thirteen-year-old Petrona during drug lord Pablo Escobar's reign in Colombia, it explores the confusion and chaos unique to coming of age during political turmoil, as well as the relationships formed and tested by desperation. Ingrid Rojas Contreras' lyrical prose and storytelling makes each of the complex characters come to life.
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Told from the perspectives of 2 young girls from 2 different socio-economic backgrounds growing up in Colombia during the reign of Pablo Escobar, "Fruit of the Drunken Tree" is an admittedly slow burn of a read at the beginning Violence, childhood innocence, and touches of magical realism encompass the lives of 7 year old Chula and her family's 13 year old maid Petrona. Then the book picks up steam when the events on the news literally enter Chula's background.

If you have the patience to push through this read, the ending is rewarding. It was interesting to read about this culture and learn that this book is inspired by the author's life events.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.
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Thank you Netgalley and Doubleday books for providing me with a free digital copy of Fruit of the Drunken Tree in exchange for an honest review.

I should note before my review that I discontinued reading Fruit of the Drunken Tree at exactly 50% and then read the last chapter. If a book has not gripped me by the halfway mark, even the most captivating ending could not compensate for 50+% of disinterest, and so I chose to put it down for now. With that in mind, I’ve concluded the following from what I did read:

Pros: Intriguing subject matter. Cultural accuracy. Use of magic realism. Beautifully detailed writing. Multiple POV.

Cons: Unconvincing protagonist (Chula). Told predominately from the perspective of a child from a privileged family (Chula). Lack of suspense. Didn’t seem plot-driven and I found myself wondering what the point of several sections were.

I expected the book to be the type of historical fiction that was a bit more informative (for instance more about the Colombian narco wars), rather than just having it serve as a backdrop. I personally think this would’ve been better suited as a memoir or short story, but since it is fiction I would’ve been far more interested in it being told from Petrona’s perspective. It was slow-paced, but poetic in a way. Overall it struggled to gain my interest, but I think in the future, I may be able to finish where I left off or start from the beginning and appreciate it in the same way as so many others.
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WARNING: There are some spoilers in this review.

For the most part, I really liked this book. I loved the story and how it juxtaposes Chula and Petrona's family and life. Chula comes from a more affluent family and Petrona comes from a more poverty-stricken one. The only similarity these two families have is the fact they're both in Colombia.

Whenever it seemed like Chula was in trouble or a guerilla group indirectly attacks her family, it seemed like Petrona's life was just a little bit worse. For example, Chula is nearly kidnapped and was able to escape before being ransomed and relocated. However, Petrona's fate was completely different. The same goes for Chula's family members and Petrona's family. Chula was able to go to a nice school while Petrona had to stop school and take care of her family. I thought it was interesting to see that despite the little affluence Chula's family has, she's still able to remain relatively safe. She was even able to safely escape to the US after her father is kidnapped.

I liked how their stories intertwined, but I found myself wanting to know more about Petrona's life than Chula's. It's not that Chula's life was bad, but I found Petrona's story to be more interesting. I wanted to know more about her brothers and Gorrion, her feelings on having to work while her mother stayed home. I also wanted to know more about Aurora and the relationship she had with Petrona.

What I was most surprised by was the kidnappings. I thought it was a little over-the-top to have both the father and Petrona kidnapped, but after reading the Author's Note, I think I understand why that was necessary. I knew very little about Colombia and even about Pablo Escobar, so I thought that the story lent really well to explaining this without going into deep detail.

The only thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the writing style. Perhaps it's because the story is written in Chula's point of view, but the language felt stunted and a little dry. It also felt like the voice used in a lot of magical realism, so I was expecting there to be some magical realism components throughout. Sadly, there were none.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday for the chance to read this eARC! 

I am really at a loss on how to write this review.

First of all, the writing was beautiful. I felt like I was there with the characters, completely immersed in Colombian culture. However, there was a disconnect for me. I didn’t really get into the book until the 200 page mark (and the book is just over 300 pages). It was a slow read, and at times it felt like a chore to pick up. However, the last one hundred pages were absolutely breathtaking and well worth the wait.
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Fruit of the Drunken Tree is equally heart breaking and compelling. That it's an own voices novel, with the author getting inspiration from her own life experiences, makes the book even more impactful. The Bogotá of the 1990s, with all its violence and threats, is the backdrop for a story about two families, and in particular two girls -  how they struggle to survive and the families struggle to stay together. While the story is mostly told through Chula's somewhat naive eyes, Petrona's chapters counterpoint the happier parts of Chula's story with the reality of day-to-day life for the poorer Columbians. It makes the novel that much more impactful as the violence Petrona has already experienced comes to Chula's neighborhood. 

I was born during Pablo Escobar's rise to power, but as an American I was completely removed from the violence of the Colombian drug war. This book captures the personal tragedies in what was for us in the United States mostly just a news story.
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Women have been secondary characters in war stories often enough that it’s jarring when when we are presented with a literary breath of fresh air like the main characters in Fruit of the Drunken Tree. But the real reason you should pick up Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ novel set in Pablo Escobar’s Colombia is not novelty, or because she’s smashing the patriarchy. Read it for the atmospheric dread and suspense that will sneak into your bones as you follow the stories of compelling characters who happen to be girls. 

The book opens in the height of the drug wars in the 1980s and ’90s in Colombia. Escobar looms as a boogeyman around every corner for young Chula, except in her gated upper-middle-class neighborhood in Bogotá, where her family isn’t as wealthy as some neighbors but can afford to hire a girl to clean and do her mother’s bidding every day.

Something about the quiet (or stunned?) countenance of the girl they hire, Petrona, compels Chula. Her curiosity turns into a connection, mostly unspoken, because Petrona — barely a teen, clinging to what’s left of her family on a hillside slum over Bogotá — has secrets she cannot share and will not impose on the girl.

Along with Petrona, Chula and her older sister, Cassandra, live in the matriarchy ruled by her sassy, fierce, get-shit-done-any-way-you-have-to mother while their father, a petroleum engineer, is away working on drilling sites. The girls’ mother takes her daughters to another town for a rally for Luis Carlos Galán, who ran for the presidency in Colombia in the late 1980s. The rally marks the first of a series of traumatic events, and the start of the cloud of death casting a pall over the family and, the reader senses, all of Colombia. Chula, Cassandra and their friends are still kids, on the playground, running around the gated neighborhood at night during blackouts to spy on neighbors, but things aren’t quite right. Cassandra destroys her dolls in ways that are upsetting and unnatural to Chula. News of car-bombings, disappearances and kidnappings bookend their days. Being so close at hand, and so constant, death preoccupies their young minds daily. It turns out to be an insidious form of osmosis.

At first, money shelters Chula’s family from some of the atrocities of the cartel, the paramilitaries, and the guerrilla groups (the only thing that’s clear in this time period is that the government, of all entities, certainly is not in control). The chapters told from Petrona’s point of view, though, are a stark flip from Chula’s chapters, even with war’s specters coloring her days. In Petrona’s life in the slum, there is no class-based cushion to the war’s blows. Having a job and working in the gated neighborhood are no escape. In fact, it might be making things worse.

Like Chula and Petrona, Rojas Contreras also grew up in Escobar’s Colombia, and she acknowledges in an author’s note at the end of the novel, “Kidnapping was a reality for many Colombians … If they had not been kidnapped themselves, every Colombian knew someone who had experienced it: a friend, a family member, someone at work.” In fact, she continues, her father was once kidnapped. That is the story we are more accustomed to reading — the kidnapped man, told from his point of view — but, though it surely informed her story, Rojas Contreras has given us hers instead: The haunting story of those left wondering, and the voices of resilience that speak of death and trauma, but also of hope, heart, and life.

Full review at Run Spot Run:
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book. This book releases July 31, 2018.

I read Fruit of the Drunken Tree as a part of the September readathon across Bookstagram. Unfortunately I was not able to get into this book. I am not sure what caused the disconnect for me. Reviewing books you didn't enjoy is always hard, particularly when a story is based on someone's real life experiences. And in this case it is even more difficult, because I just can't put my finger on why I never got into this story and connected with the characters. I typically enjoy multi-cultural historical fiction and the opportunity to learn about cultures and time periods I have never experienced. So I was eager to learn about Columbia at the time of Pablo Escobar's regime. But in this case I found myself rushing through the story, not particularly engaged. 

I know many others enjoyed this book. This book may be for you if you enjoy historical, coming of age fiction and if you enjoyed the show Narcos and want to see Columbia presented from a different view.
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A sweeping story of two young girls from the same country, yet drastically different backgrounds, both struggling to make sense of, and survive, the threat of violence which is constantly login g over their community. 

Based on actual events in the author's childhood in Colombia, this novel is beautifully written, featuring  stunningly vivid imagery of South American landscape and culture . At times the story dragged a bit, yet the gorgeous prose ket me tuned in.

Starting with a broad scope and then zooming in, the story shows how history effects a country, community, families and individuals, forever. I suspect this novel will find a role as an important work of literary fiction.
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I can’t stress enough how important that novel is. It’s peculiar how rare we get to look behind the catchy narratives that glorify narcotraficantes and FARC kidnappings, and to have a glance into the lives of women and children, those who suffer the turmoils of Colombia with their bodies and minds, losing them, dying while staying seemingly alive. And I am very happy that Rojas Contreras presents us with this opportunity. However, I was left very unsatisfied with the distribution of narratives in the book. 
The narration is mostly from the POV of Chula, who is precocious, curious, and very well written. Her chapters are near perfect. The other narrator is Petrona, Chula’s family’s teenage maid, who becomes a source of Chula’s obsession and, ultimately, the source of Chula’s family downfall. A girl from the slums who lives a dangerous life and has to make tough choices is by all means a more interesting character than Chula. Yet the chapters that Petrona is allotted are never fleshed out enough, always verging on dream sequences. And sometimes it makes sense for them to be abstract, but most of the time comes off as lazy on behalf of the author. 
Throughout the book I kept wondering why Rojas Contreras made that narrative choice, and why neither the agent, nor the editor, nor anyone else stopped her? Besides looking half-baked, these short, abrupt, unimaginative chapters do not serve in any way to inform the plot (all of the details in them could be told using an omni 3rd) but they further perpetuate the class divide that exists between Chula and Petrona. Chula is the one who deserves an imagination and a curious mind because she is a nice clean girl from a middle class house. Petrona is caught in the system and left to be a martyr with no inner world outside of the suffering she sees. I was very unhappy about this politically, and think this is a major failure on behalf of all involved in the book’s making. I would have wanted to read the narrative from Petrona’s POV, but if not, at least I would have preferred not to see the little glimpses of what is supposed to be her “POV”. Chula would have served better on her lonesome.
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