Book Reviews

Fruit of the Drunken Tree


“Pablo Escobar had turned himself in at the exact moment the law making extradition illegal had passed. Some believed he had been inside the Government Palace, the reporter said, begging the question: who, really, is the president? Petrona was blowing a bubble of pink gum.

Mamá pointed to the passing cars and noted that everybody was smiling. Mamá said it was because people were happy Pablo Escobar had turned himself in to jail, and then asked Petrona whether where she lived the people would be celebrating. ‘In the Hills? No, Señora Alma. People like el Patrón where I’m from.’

I had never heard someone call Pablo Escobar that. I turned my eyes to the street, unable to imagine how someone could actually like him. At the stoplights I watched people sitting together on the green hill between highways. One family crowded together around a sign that read, Displaced by guerillas.  Lost wife and three children.  Hungry.  Unemployed.  Help. The wind sprang waves across the mans cardboard. Two children crowded at his feet and looked at the passing cars.”

Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s debut novel takes place in a Colombia with which most people of the United State are unfamiliar. Because of movies like “Clear and Present Danger” and series like “Narcos,” it is easy to assume the most of Colombia is involved in the drug trade at some level. They fail to show Bogotá as a dynamic and vibrant city, full of museums, amazing food and the best nightlife around. These portrayals ignore what Contreras has magnificently displayed: family life in the midst of the reign of the Cartels. Most representations focus on the running of the cartels, or the hunting for them. This novel is every day life in the midst of this time period. It displays that for everyone living in Colombia during the 80’s and 90’s, the cartels, and specifically Pablo Escobar, seeped into your every day life; it was unavoidable.

Told through the perspective of Chula, a young girl living in Bogotá, with small snippets of narrative from Petrona, the maid for Chula’s family, we see the struggle to become free of Escobar’s shadow. With historically accurate events happening in the background, we live the realities of Chula and Petrona’s lives: one observing, and the other surviving. Most of us reading this book will have a hard time understanding the world in which Petrona lives, and why she makes the choices she does. How far would you go to save your family or yourself? And how far would you go to forget?