San Andrés rises gently from the Caribbean, part of Colombia but closer to Nicaragua, the largest island in an archipelago claimed by the Spanish, colonized by the Puritans, worked by slaves, and home to Arab traders, migrants from the mainland, and the descendents of everyone who came before. For Victoria – whose origins on the island go back generations, but whose identity is contested by her accent, her skin color, her years far away – the sun-burned tourists and sewage blooms, sudden storms, and ‘thinking rundowns’ where liberation is plotted and dinner served from a giant communal pot, bring her into vivid, intimate contact with the island she thought she knew, her own history, and the possibility for a real future for herself and San Andrés.
WINNER OF ELISA MÚJICA PRIZE FOR NOVELS (Colombia, 2018)
My thoughts: this was a really interesting book, I don’t know a huge amount about South America, let alone Colombia, and certainly not San Andreś. I think because it was mostly conquered by the Spanish, it just doesn’t get covered in British schools. Which is a shame, as this book demonstrates. The island has had a complex and tumultuous history, being settled by various colonisers (including the British – no surprise there) seeking a foothold in the Caribbean.
As Victoria starts to trace her family’s history, exploring her deep connection to the island, she uncovers a rich and often quite dark history. Her ancestors were involved in settling the island – but they brought slaves with them, to farm sugar, as with much of the Caribbean, and she is both horrified and intrigued by the people she’s descended from.
The modern island is not without its problems either – arguments about water, sewage, pollution and land rage around her, she’s drawn into the politics by her friends, despite her late parents never really getting involved, she feels she should, after all it’s her home too.
Challenging and questioning history, this is a slim and intelligent book. Despite the serious nature of some of the things Victoria is learning, the tone is light and never hectoring. You feel Victoria’s surprise and horror as she uncovers the truth about her family, but also her affection for these long dead relatives. Emotions are never black or white, as Victoria learns, like the past, it’s more complicated. But as she looks to the future, to her future on San Andreś, there’s hope too, by understanding her history, she can look to shape a better future.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.