Novel set in Victorian Birmingham
Novel set in Colombia (an outstanding sense of place)
27th September 2018
The Farm by Héctor Abad, novel set in Colombia
Told from the perspectives of three siblings, The Farm is a story of La Oculta, a special farm hidden away on the slopes of the Andes, a farm with a rich and troubled history.
The story opens with the death of the siblings’ mother and quickly sinks into the heart of the story of the farm, each sibling provides a different point of view. Pilar represents tradition and everyday life. She is a practicing Catholic who holds the old customs and values dear. She is a homemaker, forever busy with domestic projects, and her wish is to hold the farm together at all costs. Yet she has her share of troubles, not least the kidnapping of her son, Lucas, who is held to ransom by FARC guerillas.
Eva provides the drama. She is a modern woman, unconventional yet intensely loyal to her mother. She sacrifices her own ambitions early in life to help her mother in the family bakery, which perhaps explains her later choices of men and circumstances. Eva shows how Colombia has changed and continues to change, and the struggles the country has faced with paramilitaries, who were brought in by landowners to eradicate FARC and turned into gangs of marauding thugs.
Antonio is fixated on the past, on tracing the family history back to the time before La Oculta existed and how it came to be. He is also gay and living with his partner in New York, adding another dimension to the narrative, one that at a personal level is explored well.
Interior monologue dominates the novel. There is little action, a preponderance of back story and an unconventional story arc, the drama peaking early, and a second drama that might have added much tension, told retrospectively. An opportunity perhaps missed.
The three voices are not as distinct as they might be and the style is conversational. Pilar, Eva and Antonio are all defensive and self-justifying and critical of each other. This results in much repetition and at times the narrative labours. What holds the attention is the uncompromising portrait of the history of Colombia and the detailed and captivating descriptions of La Oculta, and the questioning of the three narrators, both of themselves and each other, in terms of character, interest and motives. Eventually, secrets are revealed and ends tied.
Abad provides an outstanding sense of place, both of the farm itself, its locale, the region of Antioquia and to some extent the whole of Colombia. La Oculta exists and can be found on Google maps. A visit to nearby Jerico on Google Street View is recommended for those unfamiliar with the area.
It is worth persisting with this novel to the end despite the lack of action, for its educational value and insights alone. La Oculta cannot speak for itself, yet Abad has managed to give it a voice through the lens of his three narrators. In all, a powerful and absorbing book.
Isobel Blackthorn for the TripFiction Team
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