“Some things don’t ever deserve to be told.”
We come upon the characters in this novel in a sort of disarray of time. Usually I am bothered by disorder in a novel, wait, is this the present or the past? But it worked here. In a war torn country, memories torture the survivors and time doesn’t much seem like a straight line anyway. The reader doesn’t really know for fact who the bad or good guys are, because all seem a bit of both. Military, drug lords, privileged schoolgirl darlings- all we know is even those privileged can’t hide behind their money. In the first of the collection of interconnected stories that create this novel, it is 2003 and young Stephanie remains behind as her parents go to a party in the mountains. Costing her maid Angelina her day off, their interactions reveal the reek of being spoiled. As Stephanie snidely orders Angelina about, there is no need to question who the ‘Lucky Ones’ are, but that’s about to change. A menacing man will disrupt her plans in ways she couldn’t imagine when she declined the party with her family. That entitled attitude is about the crumble in the horror of reality.
When the readers encounter an American, former English teacher clinging to sanity as he teaches a vine covered ceiba tree, leaves, sticks, branches, and the river stones- the sheer terror of his situation is hard to miss. A prisoner now, but for what? Why? What is to become of him? His only anchor is to continue on as if he is still teaching students. His skin is infected and his mind. Something about this particular story endeared me the most to him. A teacher’s purpose is simply to engage young minds, nothing criminal and yet how did he end up here? Why did he come?
Former students remember cruelties, and they are ugly! Some get their revenge, and chose drastic life paths. Others we meet in America, remembering Columbia like a distant dream or nightmare, depending on how the light hits their memories. This novel is populated by characters that are vastly different in their status. Where one is living a life with wealth beyond imagining others are struggling in the worst poverty, some are trying to cling to their dignity in their horrific situations but all of them merge in the chaos of civil war in their country. The stories felt terribly real. Some moments are rotten, some are commonplace bullying so many kids go through, others are unfathomable for those of us living in a country without such civil strife. Such a strange novel, and yet wonderful. All the characters are prisoners of time, their own breaking mind, the past and their memories, or of war itself.
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Random House Publishing
Spiegel & Grau