The Lucky Ones
Beginning in the 1960s, Colombia became infamous for the violent and horrific crimes of its drug cartels and the conflict with the government, FARC and others. The news coming from the country was bloody and sensationalist. Julianne Pachico, who grew up in Cali, Colombia, explores the effects of the reality of life there starting in the early 1990s. In a series of 11 interconnected stories composing an inventive novel, THE LUCKY ONES focuses on characters whose lives were torn apart by corruption, greed and violence, but also allows them moments of shining humanity.
Readers are first drawn into Pachico’s strange and powerful novel with a chapter titled “Lucky.” A teenage girl is left home for the weekend when her family attends a friend’s party. Her mother’s parting advice to her daughter is to have the live-in maid and nanny, Angelina, “tell any men who ask that we’re not in the country anymore.” The radio speaks of revolution, and Angelina never returns to the house after her trip to the market, leaving the girl all alone. The doorbell wakes her up the second morning, and when Angelina doesn’t answer the door, the girl does, finding a shoeless man with a scarred face waiting for her. Over the next few days, as her anxiety quietly increases and as Angelina and her family fail to return, the man stays outside, periodically knocking on the door, asking her if she is ready to leave. And then, finally, she is.
"THE LUCKY ONES is an odd, often beautiful book. It is worth the effort readers need to figure out the details and connections. But it is just as enjoyable to read it as a collection of related tales of loss, hope and resilience."
A later chapter, taking place 10 years earlier, describes Angelina’s life in the house she works in and “the daughter” she cares for. The two women deal with discord, both private and sociopolitical, that puts them in emotional and physical danger. The uneasiness is palpable in these chapters and others, even when the enemies and threats are not clearly articulated.
An American teacher is the prisoner of guerrillas and spends his days teaching “Hamlet” to twigs and leaves in the jungle as parasites burrow under his skin. A young rebel leader thinks back on his years at a private school and the girl he spent his time with there. After their friend dies, a group of little girls look for a new social leader for their games. In the middle of his party, a man receives a call advising him to take his family and leave the country. In the final story chronologically, but not the book’s last chapter, Pachico writes about the survivors of the Montoyas’ party --- a group of domestic rabbits gone feral and addicted to the leaves that have both sustained and destroyed them. It is a dark and creatively handled episode that lends a strange and compelling perspective to the book.
In a variety of styles and tones, Pachico captures the diversity of experience and response to the crisis in Colombia. Because she writes mostly about children, domestic workers and teachers, the tension between them and the looming threat of the traffickers and narco-terrorists, as well as the American businessmen, is heightened. As the chapters move back and forth in time, from 1993 to 2008, the overall effect is disconcerting; Pachico asks readers to put the pieces of her literary puzzle together, sorting times, places, characters and their relationships.
THE LUCKY ONES is an odd, often beautiful book. It is worth the effort readers need to figure out the details and connections. But it is just as enjoyable to read it as a collection of related tales of loss, hope and resilience.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 17, 2017
The Lucky Ones
- Publication Date: March 7, 2017
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
- ISBN-10: 0399588655
- ISBN-13: 9780399588655