One of the first things this book made me realize was that I had watched Narcos all wrong. I’d thought that the title referred to the DEA agents, I guess I was thinking “narcs” or “narcotics officers”. But the word narcos stands for narcotraficantes – the traffickers. Makes sense. The show was about Pablo Escobar, not the other guys.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree is the story not of the agents or the traffickers, but of the Colombian citizens caught in the crossfire. In her debut novel, Ingrid Rojas Contreras tells the story of the Colombia she remembers, only mildly fictionalizing her own experience. It is a haunting read.
The story is told over a period of four or five years, through the eyes of young Chula. She is growing up at the height of Escobar’s power, when carbombs and kidnappings were daily threats and judges and journalists and unfriendly politicians were assassinated with frightening regularity. Told through a child, the story is somewhat less brutal but certainly no less unsettling. A detail that haunts Chula through the novel – that haunts Contreras still – is the aftermath of one such carbomb, and the severed leg of a young girl in the debris. It is awful.
This is also the story of Petrona, the impoverished girl hired to be their family maid. Chula’s middle-class family fears kidnapping for ransom – Petrona fears her brothers taking up with the guerrillas and being murdered by police. Her story unfolds in a way that feels horrifyingly logical, you can see it coming and you can’t stop it.
All in all, a truly beautiful novel.
Bingo Square: Own Voices