Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Review by Claudia J.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is here! What better to celebrate than to read a novel amplifying amazing authors? In honor of recognizing Hispanic stories this month as well as year-round, I highly suggest a harrowing novel I read recently. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras tells the journey of the Santiagos and their lifelong connection with their maid, Petrona Sanchez. Set in Colombia at the height of the Pablo Escobar-era of its history, this novel is loosely based on Contreras’ life. Knowing this fact only further intensified the emotions I felt as I experienced this story. 

Told from the perspectives of Chula Santiago, the youngest daughter of the Santiago family, and Petrona Sanchez, Fruit of the Drunken Tree begins with a photograph, one that asks many questions but provides many answers. Yet, to know the extent of the photo, Chula takes readers to the past, to her privileged life exploring her gated community with her sister Cassandra, to the experience of having a new maid arrive at their home. Chula’s persistence at forging a friendship with Petrona provides an ongoing struggle that she faces for much of the novel. With the backdrop of ongoing violence, kidnappings, and drug trafficking, Chula explores these situations with curiosity, confusion, and occasional fear, while Petrona spends much of her life experiencing it firsthand. Slowly, readers begin to wonder who the real enemy is, as most Colombians in the novel are unsure themselves. 

Ultimately, the intimate moments of prose that Contreras provides hooked me in, and I found myself afraid for these characters and their outcome. There are several moments that left me uncomfortable and were tough to read. Nevertheless, Fruit of the Drunken Tree is beautifully written and told with such detail that enhanced my learning about Colombia during this intense time period. 

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras is available now at HCLS in print and ebook formats. Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15! Visit hclibrary.org and explore our catalog for more materials celebrating Hispanic culture and heritage.

Claudia J. has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

The picture shows author Mira Jacob wearing a denim shirt against a purple background, next to a copy of the book, which shows the title and author in block letters of turquoise and orange with graphics of people contained in each letter.

Review by Claudia J.

I glanced over at my pile of “to be read” books and picked up Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob. I checked the book out long before the coronavirus pandemic kept us in and images of systemic racism made their way out. In a time when I was feeling particularly hopeless, with all of the events toppling onto each other, Good Talk provided a much needed respite from the day-to-day.

Told from the perspective of Jacob herself in discussion with her young son, she answers the many questions he has about race, his culture, and his family. In doing so, she bares the nation’s truth: that we as Americans are imperfect and have a lot of work to do. 

Thank you, Mira. Thank you for your beautiful, vulnerable, and at times uncomfortable account of your life as an imperfect American, as an Indian woman, but also as a human existing in our incredibly fallible nation. How were you able to make me feel so many emotions at simultaneous levels? How did you speak so honestly about colorism and pages later talk about the complicated relationship between Black and Brown people? How did you encompass the pain of watching a sibling, whom of course you’re happy for, find true love, but also just a short section away, haunt me with your memories of a paper city?

The illustrative design, the words, the soft voice I heard as I read, said, “It’s okay, I know this struggle too.” Reading this felt like the meditation we all need right now. Good Talk is not only one of my favorite graphic novels of all time, but it is one of the books that should be required reading. Mira, thank you again.

Available in print at HCLS as well as in ebook and eaudio through OverDrive/Libby.

Claudia J. has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.