Fruit of the Drunken Tree

36636727Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras        (website, Twitter, IG)

Her Grace’s rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: literary fiction

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection/BOTM

Length: 304 pp

Published by: Doubleday (31 July 2018)

In 1990s, Escobar-controlled Bogota, two girls become unlikely friends. Chula Santiago, the seven year old daughter of relatively wealthy parents, is sheltered and spoiled. Petrona is the 13 year old maid Chula’s mother hires, a girl from the guerilla-occupied slums. At first, Chula and her older sister, Cassandra, think Petrona is very shy since she hardly speaks. Chula makes it a game to count how many syllables Petrona says in a day. However, as the girls grow closer and become friends, it is clear that there is much more to Petrona than Chula first thought. She has traumas in her past which inform her present and future actions. Chula herself becomes traumatized by her surroundings, particularly after seeing a bombing on the news and then surviving a guerilla attack when her family visits her grandmother. When Petrona becomes entangled with people and events that are more than she bargained for, it leads her to take drastic actions which could completely unravel her life as well as Chula’s.

I honestly didn’t love this book. I had wanted to, but it just never really clicked with me. I enjoyed the bits that felt like magical realism, but in general I felt the narration and changing between Chula’s and Petrona’s points of view was disjointed. I also thought Chula had a vocabulary and manner of speaking which is much older than what a seven year old would use. Yes, I know she is an observant child and intelligent. My daughter is highly intelligent, and she still doesn’t speak like an adult does. I found that hard to buy and it drew me out of the story because it was jarring. 

The settings were all vividly described, which I liked. I can’t imagine living in a slum, or being considered rich because I have running water and electricity. That really makes me think about how spoiled we are in this country. I mean, I knew that we’re basically a bunch of spoiled assholes here anyway, but this was one of those books that helped drive that point home. Colombia sounds like a gorgeous country, and the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown show it as such as well. With good food! But whether I will ever make it there for a visit is pretty unlikely. 

I found it interesting that this was also an autofiction book, based in part on the author’s real life experiences growing up as a child in Escobar’s Colombia. 

None of the things I liked about the book were enough to make me genuinely like the whole thing, though, unfortunately. I’d recommend it to people who really want to know about near-kidnappings or are really keen to read up on Colombian society, but for me, I think there are better books out there that would give me the same things. 

Openly Straight

16100972Openly Straight by Bill Konigsburg

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Pete Cross

Source: my own collection

Length: 09:01:00

Publisher: Dreamscape Media

Year: 2017

Rafe is openly gay and lives with the full support of his parents and community in Boulder, CO. The problem, as he sees it, is that everyone sees his label first. He’s always the gay boy, the gay soccer player, the gay writer, never just Rafe. He finally decides he is tired of it and wants a fresh start, which he will get by moving across the country to an all-boys boarding school near Boston. Where he tells no one he is gay. He doesn’t go back in the closet, he argues, he just doesn’t advertise that he’s gay. Naturally, things get out of hand. One little white lie about not being gay snowballs into Rafe actively asking his family and friends in CO to pretend he’s straight. And then there’s Ben, the quiet, kind soccer teammate who Rafe can’t help but fall in love with, and who may or may not be discovering things about his own sexuality that he doesn’t want to confront.

This was a very interesting and quick read. Well, I listened to it on Audible, but still. I am straight and have never had to deal with coming out, so I can only imagine what it’s like for people always to be labeled as “the gay ____” of the group. I would hate that, and I really hope I have never done that to anyone. If I have, I apologize. It was inadvertent. Which is the point. Labels suck, and they are often placed unconsciously. This realization leads to the two best parts of the book. The first was the discussion in Rafe’s literature class when everyone was talking about tolerance. It really isn’t a very positive word, which is something I have said forever. To tolerate something – she is tolerable, I suppose – implies that it is just on this side of not making you vomit. You don’t actively hate it. You allow its presence but don’t welcome it. I tolerate the cat but I can’t fucking wait not to have a cat. So why do we say that tolerance is good in society? Wouldn’t something like acceptance or inclusion be infinitely better? I wouldn’t want someone just to “tolerate” me. Rather than being tolerant, let’s work on being accepting. Even better, let’s be inclusive. Accepting is better than tolerant, but it is still not perfect, since to accept something has an implication of resignation or surrender about it, that you may not like something but you know you can’t change it so you’re going to just let it go. It is better than tolerating something, but I think embracing or including a person or an idea or whatever is perhaps the best way to go about it.

The second part that I really liked, which may be a spoiler, I don’t know, so consider yourselves warned, is when Rafe realized that the “cameras” he was always so worried about were rarely actually focused on him. He realized that he had been staring at a guy in his group but he was thinking about himself and how concerns and realized what people think didn’t have anything to do with his own sense of worth or his own masculinity or identity. And then he had that lightbulb moment and realized that when others stare at him, it isn’t necessarily that they are judging him, but that they are thinking about themselves and reflecting on something utterly unrelated to him. I think a lot of people need to figure this out, that they aren’t the center of everything and that people aren’t always concerned with them. I know teens tend to have those imaginary audiences a lot, but I think many people never outgrow that. As my grandmother says, “you don’t worry so much about what people think about you if you knew how seldom they do.” It’s true – I think people think about themselves far more than anyone else and, for the most part, don’t care what other people do so long as it doesn’t affect them too much.

I’m a bit off YA at the moment, but this was still a very good book even though it wasn’t one of my favorites. The whole thing was just an interesting discussion and I am glad I read it. The writing style was easy and enjoyable, and apparently the author is local for me. Maybe one of these days I’ll see him at a book thing or something, which would be cool.