Infinite Country

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Patricia Engel
Genres: Fiction
Pub. Date: Mar. 2021 (read Apr. 2021 on Audible)

I decided to read Infinite Country because I’ve been seeing a lot of good reviews and the narrator in the audiobook sample sounded excellent! I’m so glad I picked it up because I ended up really liking it. I found it mildly confusing to keep track of the characters at the beginning, but this was a really moving story about how it feels to be divorced from your homeland and the struggles mixed-status families face in staying connected to one another.

Infinite Country is split between Colombia and America and tells the story of a family who move to America and overstay their visas. Elena and Mauro never intended to stay in America, but the uncertainty of returning to Colombia and the fact that some of their children are now American-born, they decide to stay. Eventually they become separated – with half the family returning to Colombia and the other half living undocumented in the States. 

Like the book, I’m going to keep my review short. The story had some interesting plot points – especially with the part of the family living in Colombia – but at the end of the day it’s a simple story about the trauma many families experience in trying to immigrate to America. Nothing in this story really surprised me (except for the bad thing Talia does), it’s a story I feel like I’ve heard many times before. Families that seek a better life and are forced to live in poverty and taken advantage of because of their fear of deportation. But I loved this book because it is deeply humanizing. We get to spend time with each family member and experience each of their longings and struggles. I really connected with each of the characters, especially Mauro, and I was moved by their tenacity.

Immigration forces everyone to make tough choices and I really appreciated this in-depth look at its impact on one family. At less than 200 pages, I read this in two sittings and definitely recommend it for everyone! 

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Rating: ⭐
Author: Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: July 31, 2018 (read June 2018)

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a free advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I’m not sure where I first heard about this book, but as soon as I found out it was historical fiction about Colombia I was super interested in reading it. I decided to include it in my June Monthly Challenge to read 3 historical novels. I was intrigued with this book because I haven’t read very much historical fiction from South America, much less anything specific to Colombia, and I saw this as a great opportunity to educate myself.

The author did grow up in Colombia and immigrated to America as a result of the violence she experienced. Fruit of the Drunken Tree tells the story of a young girl, Chula, and the relationship she builds with her maid, Petrona. The story is semi-autobiographical, which made it all the more interesting.

There are some interesting class dynamics in this novel. Chula and her sister Cassandra are growing up in Bogota, which experiences a lot of drug and gang violence relating to Pablo Escobar, the looming villain of Chula’s childhood. But Chula and Cassandra grow up in a wealthy, gated neighbourhood and are mostly separated from the violence until it starts slowly infiltrating into their daily lives.

Their father works for a large american oil firm, so he makes good money, but he is away most of the time. Their mother is constantly hiring and firing new maids and when she hires the meek Petrona, no one thinks she’ll last the month. But to their surprise, Petrona does last and Chula starts to develop a relationship with her that ultimately interrupts and changes the lives of everyone around them.

I liked, but didn’t love, this book. I learned a lot about Colombia that I didn’t know, but I did find the novel a bit slow moving and I thought it lacked explanation and balance. I say it lacked balance because it is told from the point of view of a 7 year old, wealthy girl. I know this is part of the charm of the narration, that Chula is a child and ignorant, but she didn’t really understand how different her live was from Petrona’s and I would have liked to see more narration from Petrona and what it was like to grow up poor and heavily influenced by the drug cartels. I found Petrona’s story a lot more engaging than Chula’s, but we don’t get that much from Petrona’s narration. I know the author is writing what she knows, and I think that is super important in literature and I do think she shouldn’t write too much from a perspective she doesn’t really understand. But I was more intrigued in the intricacies of Petrona’s life and the politics of the cartels against the government.

I say it lacked explanation because there’s a lot of political stuff going on in this novel, but I sometimes struggled to understand what was going on because I just didn’t have enough context. I found the author’s note at the end super helpful because I really didn’t understand what was happening in parts of this novel and it only became clear after I read the author’s note. I wasn’t really sure what was motivating Petrona or why her boyfriend was so interested in Chula.

Kidnapping was a large part of the violence perpetrated in Colombia as wealthy individuals and children were often kidnapped and held for a ransom that, if paid out, often still didn’t result in release. I thought this story was a good debut and insight into the author’s experience, but I struggled with the plot, which was a bit meandering and lacked drive. I didn’t feel like there was anything propelling this plot and I often found myself getting a bit frustrated with Chula. That said though, I think novels from the POV of children are hard to write and I often don’t love them. But I do think the author did a good job capturing how confusing it is to be 7 years old and how defining certain events can be on your life.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree will be available in stores July 31, 2018

June Monthly Challenge

I was too busy in May to do a monthly challenge and I actually really missed it. I love the flexibility of just being able to pick any book you want off the shelf, which I rarely do anymore between my challenges, book club, and netgalley reads, but I felt like my reading was a bit aimless without any reading goals to work towards in May.

I’m super excited about my June reading challenge though and I think I’ve picked out 3 great books for it. Historical fiction was my favourite genre for many years, but I’ve been a little fatigued with it over the last few years because I feel the genre is over-saturated with WW1 and 2 novels and books about slavery. So I got a lot more into fantasy and discovered all these YA fantasy series that have huge online followings, but I am starting to get a bit fatigued with this genre now because while there’s so much out there, once you start reading a lot of it, it tends to get a bit repetitive.

In an effort to branch out a little more again and return to a genre I love, I’ve decided that in June my monthly challenge will be to:

Read 3 Historical Novels

It was really hard to narrow it down to just 3 books, because I do have a huge list of historical novels that I’ve been wanting to get to, so I tried to focus on reading about stories set in different countries and different time periods. The three books I picked are:

1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
2. I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhorn
3. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

 

I read Kristin Hannah’s other bestseller, The Nightingale, in 2015 with my book club and we all really liked it. My book club liked it a little more than me because this was when I was really getting fatigued with the WW1 and WW2 books, but I did still like it. The Great Alone is her new book and has been getting fantastic reviews – I bought a copy on sale in February and I’ve been trying to get to it ever since. I don’t like to know too much about my books when I start reading them, but this is set in Alaska in 1974 and examines the aftereffects of a former Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War when he returns to Alaska.

I Was Anastasia is a fairly new release, but I feel like I’ve been waiting to read this one since I first saw a synopsis of it months ago. This is actually my book club selection for June, so I’m happy to be able to combine two of my reading lists this month. This is a WW1 book, but bear with me because this sounds different than any other WW1 book I’ve ever read! It’s about the grand duchess Anastasia and her supposed execution with the rest of the Romanov’s during the Russian Revolution. There’s always been speculation that Anastasia may have survived and in this novel, a young girl shows up in Germany 3 years later claiming to be Anastasia. Was anyone else obsessed with 20th Century Fox’ version of Anastasia growing up? Because I was and I am super excited for some bestselling, historical fiction about her! I’m on a journey to the past with this one folks.

My last pick of the month is a brand new, not-yet-released book that I only heard about recently. I’m not even sure where I first heard about Fruit of the Drunken Tree, I think Goodreads may have featured it in one of the lists of their blog, but it sounds so good. It’s a debut novel by Ingrid Rojas Contreras that was inspired by her own life growing up in the 1990’s in Colombia. It’s a coming-of-age story during a period of great upheaval and violence in Colombia and features a piece of history that I am not knowledgeable about and haven’t seen featured in historical fiction before. A big thanks to Penguin Random House Canada, who happily provided me with an advance copy of this book so that I could include it in my monthly challenge.