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text 2019-01-07 01:41
Book Charities


As a follow-up to our charity picks for 24 Festive Tasks, I thought I'd share a few of the lists and websites I consulted when making my choice, and reproduce the brief descriptions of the organizations presented there, in case anybody here on BookLikes should be interested in following up with one of them.  Most of them have offices in the countries where the majority of BookLikers are from, so it should be easy for anyone interested to take a closer look.  As I said in my earlier post, there are many tremendously devoted organizations with phantastic programs out there; I really had a hard time making up my mind.


Bookfriends International, the charity I eventually chose, is located in the greater Chicago area (1000 N. Rand Road, #206 Wauconda, IL. 60084, phone (1-847) 726-8776; email bookfriends [at] earthlink . net).  I'm sure they'd be thrilled to hear more from us.


That said, here are the resources I consulted when making my decision:



1. To begin with, there is the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning / Book Donation Agencies page, which lists the following book charities:


African Childrens Libraries


African Children's Libraries
2221 NW 12th Street
Corvallis, Oregon 97330-1459, USA
E-mail: ann @ africanchildrenslibraries . org
Contact: Ann Easterly, Executive Director

African Children's Libraries donates children's books and assists mostly in elementary schools in establishing libraries. They are working with mainly children’s libraries in Liberia. ACL have helped establish 18 school libraries and sent some few books to a community college, nursing school and hospital over the last 15 years.

Currently, they can provide consultation to those looking for resources but are not taking applications for additional schools.


African Library Project


Thistle Street Portola Valley, CA 94028, USA
Phone: (+1) 650-851-3640
E-mail: info @ africanlibraryproject . org

Contact: Chris Bradshaw

African Library Project sends English language books, which are collected through book drives. Books are at U.S. preschool to 8th grade reading levels. Available resources include baby board books, children’s picture books, fiction and nonfiction, juvenile literature, children’s encyclopedias, children’s and adult dictionaries, recent atlases, and textbooks in English, science, math and geography.


Asia Foundation / Books for Asia


465 California St., 9th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94104, USA
Phone: (+1) 415-982-4640 and Fax: (+1) 415-392-8863
E-mail: info @ asiafound . org
Contact: Melody Zavala, Director (melody . zavala @ asiafound . org)

The Asia Foundation's Books for Asia program donates new and high quality used books on all educational subjects and at all levels. Field offices of the Asia Foundation distribute the books to libraries, universities, schools and other institutions in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Please contact the nearest Asia Foundation office (often in capital cities of project countries) and ask for the Books for Asia Programme.


Books Abroad


Unit 1, Richmond Avenue Industrial Estate, Rhynie, Huntley, Aberdeenshire, Scotland AB54 4HJ, UK
Phone: +44-0-1464-861446 and Fax: +44-0-1464-861446
E-mail: info @ booksabroad . org . uk
Contact: Hazel Stephen, Administrator

Books Abroad sends educational, library and resource books for all ages to places of greatest need. New and lightly used school textbooks in all subjects, library books, atlases, dictionaries and health books are available. Books are mainly donated by local schools and North East of Scotland Library Service Libraries. Most of the work is carried out by volunteers. To date, over 3 million books have been despatched worldwide.


Book Aid International (BAI)


39-41 Coldharbour Lane, Camberwell, London SES 9NR, UK
Phone: +44-20-7733-3577 or Fax: +44-20-7978-8006
E-mail: info @ bookaid . org
Contact: Samantha Thomas-Chuula, Head of Programmes

Book Aid International works in partnership with libraries in Africa by providing books, resources and training to support an environment in which reading for pleasure, study and lifelong learning can flourish. They provided 563,424 new books to over 3,300 libraries in 2013 alone and have sent more than 30 million books to partner libraries since 1954. The books are distributed by in country distribution partners - library services, local NGOs, or distribution committees. To request books please read through the information and fill out the form on their website.


Bookfriends International NFP


1000 N. Rand Road #206, Wauconda, IL  60084, USA
Phone: USA Toll Free (+1) 877-726-8777 and Office (+1) 847-726-8776 or Fax (+1) 847-726-8775
E-mail: bookfriends @ earthlink . net

Bookfriends International NFP is a non-profit public foundation that seeks to provide educational resources to the secondary school age children (grades 5 - 12) of Africa by providing them with textbooks, library books and reference materials that are in desperately short supply in their local villages.


Books for Africa

26 East Exchange StreetSuite 411Saint Paul, MN 55101, USA

Phone: (651) 602-9844 or Fax: (651) 602-9848

Email: bfa @ booksforafrica . org
Contact: Patrick Plonski, Executive Director (Patrick @ booksforafrica . org)

A non-profit organization seeking to share books with the English-speaking countries of Africa. Books for Africa are the largest shipper of donated textbooks to the African continent and have shipped over 30 million school, university, and library books to 49 African countries since 1988. The organization only sends new or gently used books in excellent condition. All books are donated, with receiving organizations paying the costs ($10,000 - $15,000 per container) of shipping donated books in 40-foot containers each holding approximately 22,000 books.


Books for International Goodwill (B.I.G.)


Parole Rotary Club, P.O. Box 6327, Annapolis, MD 21401-0327, USA
Phone: +1-410-293-6865
Contact: bigbookdonations1 @ gmail . com

B.I.G. is a non-profit charitable organization associated with the Parole Rotary Club providing gifts in kind in cooperation with the public and private sectors. They ship books from individuals, bookstores, schools or libraries to needy countries in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and other areas of the world. The books are sorted into the following categories: college texts, high school texts and elementary texts and general reading for libraries (fiction and non-fiction), medical school, religion and paperbacks. The books are sorted and stored by volunteers. Shipping can be paid primarily by B.I.G. (with the recipient responsible for customs clearance and inland transportation). Over 6.4 million books have been sent.

Note: B.I.G. has suspended operations pending the procurement of a new warehouse. They cannot accept volunteers or book donations at this time (11/01/2018)


Books for the Barrios, Inc.


1125 Wiget Lane, Walnut Creek, California 94598, USA
Phone: (+1) 925-934-6718
E-mail: joinus @ booksforthebarrios . org
Contact: Nancy Harrington

Books for the Barrios operates in the Philippines. Elementary textbooks, children‘s fiction and picture books, toys and games, athletic equipment and consumable school supplies are available.

Due to the large size of shipments, individual requests cannot be honoured except as part of an ongoing project to the requestor’s particular locale. Individuals interested in acting as coordinators for large book shipments, however, should contact Books for the Barrios. Coordinators assist in identifying appropriate recipient schools, repacking books in smaller lots and organizing distribution. Coordinators can identify shipment sponsors among local government officials and civic leaders. The program is eligible for available countrywide development fund support.


Bridge to Asia


1505 Juanita Way, Berkeley, CA 94702-1103, USA
Phone: (+1) 510-665-3998 and Fax: 510-665-3988
E-mail: asianet @ bridge . org
Contact: Newton X. Liu, Ph.D.

Bridge to Asia operates in China and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Vietnam). New and lightly used books, journals, magazines, databases, children‘s books, school books, reference books and other educational materials are available. Bridge to Asia has only a limited ability to send materials to individuals and to organizations not part of the recipient universities distribution system. Such requests often require personal attention and special shipping procedures. Bridge to Asia can still fulfill requests from individuals, but it may be several months before the books are sent out.


Brother's Brother Foundation (BBF)


1200 Galveston Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15233, USA
Phone: (+1) 412-321-3160 or Fax: (+1) 412-321-3325
E-mail: mail @ brothersbrother . org
Contact: Frank Seanez (Warehouse Assistant and Education Program Coordinator)

The Brother's Brother Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization providing gifts in kind in cooperation with the public and private sectors. Working with volunteers in host countries, they have sent over 8,000,000 books to schools, universities and civic organizations since 1986. Brother's Brother Foundation typically deals in very large quantities (a ton may be considered a small quantity). They provide medical supplies, textbooks, food and seeds to countries all over the world. Their Education Program helps developing countries to build educational infrastructures by providing donated books and educational materials to Africa, South and Central America, East Europe and Asia. All donated books are screened to ensure that they are usable and relevant. Currently 15% of donations are used books and 85% are new books. Once a recipient is established, BBF makes available a book list for the recipient to select titles and quantities. On the website you will find an online application for receiving donations.


Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE)


321 Chapel Street, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7Z2, Canada
Phone: +1- 613-232-3569 or Fax: +1- 613-232-7435
Contact: Hila Olyan, Director of International Programs (holyan @ code . ngo)

CODE is a Canadian charitable organization that has been promoting education and literacy in the developing world since 1959.  CODE builds the bridge of literacy by developing partnerships that provide resources for learning, promote awareness and understanding, and encourage self-reliance. CODE’s book donation programme is based on a long-term partnership arrangement with mostly non-governmental organizations in Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania. North American donated books are selected by local book committees from booklists that are made available to the partners by CODE’s affiliate organization, the International Book Bank (IBB), based in Baltimore, USA. The donation programme is supplemented by funding for the organizations that enables them to purchase books from local publishers or to publish books themselves for free distribution to the target audience. The different sources of books ensure that materials are relevant to the needs of the end users, the readers. CODE and partners also establish libraries, train teachers, librarians and other literacy agents to support quality education for children. Please ask CODE headquarters for the nearest local organization or have a look at their website.


Darien Book Aid Plan


1926 Post Road, Darien, Connecticut 06820, USA
Phone: +1-203-655-2777
E-mail: darienbookaid . international @ gmail . com
Contact: Libby Gedney

Darien Book Aid Plan has books on different subjects that are less than 10 years old. They send small boxes of books directly to libraries, schools and hospitals all over the world. The organization does not accept magazines in general, but forwards The National Geographic if it is less than 5 years old. Darien Book Aid Plan does not work with partner organizations. Apart from libraries, they also support local prisons with paperback books and give books to organizations that hold fundraising book sales. Darien Book Aid Plan will send a postcard informing you of the date of the transportation. They appreciate receiving a thank you note with a picture of the library or institution.

Please write a letter or an e-mail to apply for book donations with the following information:

  1. the name of your institution and the type of education or services you offer   
  2. the ages of the people who are the intended readers    
  3. the English reading level of the intended readers – beginning, intermediate or advanced    
  4. the types of books that would best fill your needs – textbooks, reference books, story books, fiction, non-fiction etc. (Please be as specific as possible. We want to fill your needs as closely as we can.)
  5. your mailing address and phone number in the exact form it should appear on our mailing label.

Global Book Exchange (GBX)


664 Hilary Drive, Tiburon, CA 94920, USA
E-mail: global.k12books @ gmail . com
Contact: Marilyn Nemzer, Director

GBX operates worldwide and is non-sectarian and supports all secular and religious recipients. However, religious texts are not available. Grades K to 12 used textbooks, teacher’s editions and readers are available. GBX collects surplus used books from local schools. The books are evaluated for condition and applicability. Books not deemed useful are recycled. For shipped books, GBX prefers to ship to a Rotary Club for distribution. The receiving club is responsible for customs clearance (when required) and distribution to clients. GBX gives high priority to recipients able to pay for port-to-port shipments. Shipping costs for a typical pallet shipment of 1000 books are approximately $500. A typical container shipment of 15,000 books costs approximately $4,000. Recipients are expected to pay any in-country costs (customs clearance, storage, distribution). GBX has limited funds for shipping costs. For international shipments, GBX sends as few as thirty boxes and as much as a 20-foot container.


International Book Project, Inc.


Van Meter Building, 1440 Delaware Avenue, Lexington, Kentucky 40505, USA
Phone: (+1) 859-254-6771
Contact: director @ intlbookproject . org

Book Project sends books to libraries, schools, hospitals and universities in the Global South and parts of the U.S.A. since more than 36 years. Books can be new from publishers or used from individuals, schools and libraries. They cover all levels, children's books through graduate and professional books. On the website you will find an application form for book donations that will be assessed based on the quality and completeness of the application, suitability of the organization as a long-term partner and the IBPs ability to provide the specific books requested.


Rotary Books for the World


4601 Hamblen Court, Seabrook, TX 77586, SA
Phone: (+1) 281-474-2260 and Fax: (+1) 281-474-1492
E-mail: c . clemmons @ att . net / b . clemmons @ att . net
Contact: Charlie Clemmons or Barbara Clemmons

Rotary Books for the World mainly operates in Southern Africa. They work through partnerships with Rotary Clubs in the Global South with their main partner being the Rotary Club of South Africa. The South African Rotarians have a new Rotary Humanitarian Aid Centre which serves as the book distribution center as well as district offices, training facilities, and dispenser of other aid materials. It holds racks of books carefully sorted by subject matter making it easy for the teachers to select their books. The Centre is open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for qualified schools, libraries, and educational institutions to come and pick up as many books as they can carry. New and used primary, secondary, and college-level textbooks, and general reading material for libraries are available. For requests, please contact Charlie or Barbara Clemmons.


Skipping Stones


Box 3939, Eugene, OR 97403, USA
Phone: 541-342-4956
E-mail: Arun Narayan Toké, Editor (editor @ SkippingStones . org)

Skipping Stones has donated books and back issues of Skipping Stones magazines all over the world. All kinds of books are donated: fiction and nonfiction, picture books, chapter books, juvenile novels, reference books, nature, multicultural works and folk tales. Skipping Stones, an international, non-profit, multicultural and nature awareness magazine, is now in its 30th year. The magazine, published quarterly (4 times a year), includes original writing, poetry, art and photography by all ages, especially youth. This non-commercial, ad-free magazine welcomes your students’ writing and art in English, as well as all bilingual (with another language) submissions. Annual Subscriptions are $35, including international postage.

While the donations of books and magazine back issues are free, Skipping Stones asks that those requesting donations arrange for shipping and handling costs. With increased international postage for overseas shipments, it is not possible for Skipping Stones to cover the postage. A large Flat Rate Priority Box of books (weight, approx. 16 to 20 pounds) costs us US$92.00 in postage. If you can arrange a US mail to address, postage can be much less.


Sources of Donated Books for Schools and Libraries

Peace Corps. 2012. Sources of Donated Books for Schools and Libraries. [pdf] Washington DC, Peace Corps. Available at: http://files.peacecorps.gov/library/RE003.pdf [25.01.2018]

This document originally intended to help Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts identify organizations that might provide books and other educational materials for schools and libraries in their communities. However, the organizations listed also provide support to other organisations.  The services described for each organization listed in Section A apply specifically to Peace Corps Volunteers. The services and procedures for organizations listed in Section B apply to counterparts or other host country nationals requesting assistance directly.


The World Bank Family Network (WBFN) / Book Project


1818 H Street NW, MSN J2-202, Washington DC 20433, USA
Phone: +1-202-473-8960 and Fax: +1-202-522-0142
Contact: Catherine Mathieu, WBFN Coordinator (bookprojectwbfn @ worldbank . org)

The Book Project receives, packs, and distributes donated books to educational institutions in rural and disadvantaged areas of developing countries. Books are donated to all school levels, libraries and community groups concerned with education. When a Distributor requests a shipment book request forms are received from the institutions to justify sending a container of books to a country, WB Book Project in cooperation with a Distributor in Washington, DC finds a recipient organisation to clear the books through customs and distribute them to the recipients. The Distributor can either be spouses/staff of World Bank Missions, the Peace Corps in countries where volunteers are working with libraries and schools, ministries, or local or international NGO's.  WB Book Project sends up to four containers (20' or 40') of 320 or 576 boxes of books per year to developing countries around the world (shipping is paid to the nearest point of entry). Write to them for a book request form (do not contact the local office of the World Bank). Development workers or librarians visiting Washington D.C. can select books from their warehouse to take to libraries overseas. Due to the long waiting list of countries wanting shipments, it usually takes at least two years for WBVS to collect enough requests from one country, find a reliable distributor, pack the shipment and send it overseas.




2. Then, there is an International Book Giving Day blog post on a book reviewer's blog called Playing by the book, which presents 150+ literacy and reading charities (both international and domestic): Some of these overlap with the UNESCO list, but the blog post lists many other charities as well.  The blog post also contains links for the UK Charity Commission Register and The Office of the Scottish Charities Register (the link provided there for the IRS charity search page is broken; the new IRS charity search page is here); and it features, inter alia, MbD's and Moonlight's 2018 choices (and my 2017 choice), The Book Bus and Room to Read:

The Book Bus
The Book Bus believes that every child should have the opportunity to discover the hidden treasures that books contain. Our aim is to reveal the value of literacy by instilling a lifelong love of reading in young children. Using the spoken word, artwork, puppet-making and a host of other media, our volunteers bring to life the worlds within storybooks. The Book Bus provides a mobile service and actively promotes literacy to underprivileged communities in Zambia and Ecuador. The legacy of each Book Bus visit is a reading corner and bookshelves stocked with children’s books.


Room to Read
Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.

... as well as, for example:

IBBY – The International Board on Books for Young People
The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) is a non-profit organization which represents an international network of people from all over the world who are committed to bringing books and children together. As well as supporting the general organization you can also donate to specific projects around the world through their Children in Crisis Fund.


LitWorld works to cultivate literacy leaders worldwide through transformational literacy experiences that build connection, understanding, resilience and strength. LitWorld joins together with teachers, parents, community members, and children to support the development of sustainable literacy practices across the world. One of their main activities is World Read Aloud Day.


GBA Ships
The ships visit each port for several weeks each and open the gangways to hundreds and sometimes thousands of visitors each day. On average, over one million visitors have been welcomed on board every year! The floating book fairs offer over 7,000 titles, providing many visitors their first-ever opportunity to purchase a wide range of quality literature.


Shine is a literacy charity that works in Zambia. They run a literacy school in a shanty town in Lusaka which has around 150 children all learning how to read and write. Every child receives a daily meal at the school and pays no fees whatsoever.


Friends of African Village Libraries
FAVL’s goal is to assist the rural poor of Africa with the creation of village libraries. FAVL refurbishes community-donated buildings, transforming them into a space to read and study. Libraries are stocked with books by local authors and in local languages to the greatest extent possible. In addition, FAVL sponsors librarian training and provides for librarian salaries, thereby empowering locals with skilled employment.


Wings of the Dawn
Our Vision is to establish functional literate communities in Africa to bridge the gap between poverty and prosperity. Our Mission is to help build economically stable and productive societies in African communities by ensuring access to self-sustaining educational centers for its citizens.


3. And finally, there is of course Google, which will take you directly, inter alia, to the websites of these two programs:

World Literacy Foundation

"We strive to ensure that every young individual regardless of geographic location has the opportunity to acquire literacy and reading skills to reach their full potential, succeed at school and beyond. We provide free access to quality education materials and innovate solutions that target wide-scale illiteracy. We envision a world in which every one of us can read and write, in which there is free access to education for all."


Aid for Africa / Girls Education Project

"Aid for Africa is committed to empowering girls through education. When a girl in Africa gets the chance to go to school and stay in school, the cycle of poverty is broken and things change."

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review 2018-08-01 18:14
Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today by Leslie Marmon Silko
Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit - Leslie Marmon Silko

Bold and impassioned, sharp and defiant, Leslie Marmon Silko's essays evoke the spirit and voice of Native Americans. Whether she is exploring the vital importance literature and language play in Native American heritage, illuminating the inseparability of the land and the Native American people, enlivening the ways and wisdom of the old-time people, or exploding in outrage over the government's long-standing, racist treatment of Native Americans, Silko does so with eloquence and power, born from her profound devotion to all that is Native American. 





In this collection of essays, Silko, a member of the Pueblo Nation, discusses art, symbolism, and overall cultural growth within the Pueblo community. Some of the topics covered in Yellow Woman (the title of the book coming from one of the essays enclosed):




* Symbolism in Pueblo art, ie. use of squash blossom on pottery designs = possible berringer of death, lightning imagery could mean good fortune, karmaj petals used for their symetry to represent four corners of the earth or four elements  (fire, water, earth, air). Discussion of how some imagery is used to illustrate the earth being simultaneously complex and fragile


* "Yellow Woman" an image of Pueblo mythology, a goddess highly regarded for her bravery, strength, calm demeanor during catastrophe, and her "uninhibited sexuality" Rather than relying on violence and destruction to assure victories, "Yellow Woman" bewitches foes simply through her sensuality and self confidence.




* Silko writes that her own family is a blend of Pueblo, Mexican and Caucasian and her own struggles of "not looking right" to any of these groups. She speaks lovingly of her "dark and handsome" great-grandmother who "exuded confidence and strength", but admits that the woman might not have been considered traditionally beautiful by either Caucasians or Pueblo people, which opens up an essay discussion for how beauty, the thing itself, is interpreted by different cultures. Silko notes that facial differences are highly prized among the Pueblo people. 


*Discussion of how the idea of gender norms or "mens' work vs. womens' work" doesn't really have a place in Pueblo culture, only a matter of if you are able-bodied enough to get the job done.. so you find women doing construction and men doing basket weaving and child care. People just go where they are needed. 


*Historically, Pueblo people were originally fine with sexual fluidity and up until the arrival of the Puritans, openly supported LGBTQ members of the tribe. Also, babies born out of wedlock were not an issue because unplanned or not, the life was honored as life. If not wanted by the biological parents, the newborn was simply given to a barren woman within the tribe to raise. 


The discussions on art and culture were interesting but there was something quietly underneath that just had a feel of Silko sometimes talking down to her readers. Some of the essays repeat topics and even certain passages are duplicated verbatim from one essay into another, which I found incredibly disappointing and lazy. I know some of these pieces were previously printed elsewhere, but certain essays she must have been sitting on for a long while. For instance, one that is noted as having been previously published in 1996 -- "Auntie Kie talks about US Presidents and US Policy" -- but within that essay Silko talks about telling her aunt about an upcoming article Silko is to have published, "What Another Four Years Of Ronald Reagan Will Mean to Native Americans" (Reagan announced his Alzheimer's diagnosis in 1994). 


So while some of the topics were interesting, I thought the collection as a whole was kind of sloppily put together. Also, if you haven't read any of Silko's fiction, there are spoilers for some of her short stories within these essays.




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review 2018-01-21 15:39
Fruit of the Drunken Tree -- A Luminous novel of girlhood, class, tragedy, empathy and Colombia
Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel - Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Fruit of the Drunken Tree broke my heart a hundred times and fully restored it almost every time.


by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Available July 31, 2018



When I was young, I was frequently chastised for being "too sensitive." I wasn't a wimpy sort of kid; I just felt everything -- deeply. If I was happy, I was practically delirious. When I really felt something, I was frequently accused of being melodramatic. I truly was not trying to get attention. I was just a little different from my very tightly-wound family. I projected thoughts and feelings onto everything from animals to bedsheets. I remember the weighty impact certain realizations made on me when I became aware of them: the vast number of people in the world each living their own life of which I was completely unaware, the horror of being homeless, my cousin Katie who died in a household accident before I ever knew her and who still remains six dressed in a plastic halloween costume in my mind -- that's the picture I had seen.


Maybe this is why the luminous story of Chula Santiago and her much-coveted friend, Petrona, resonates so deeply for me. Chula is a child who believes in ghosts and communicates her feelings to cows via impassioned "moo" sounds. She is also a girl who watches, listens and reads the adult world around her. Chula feels everything -- deeply.


Despite being set in Bogotá during the Pablo Escobar saga, this book is not Narcos. It is a "normal" yet strange and magical childhood taking place amid extremely unusual circumstances. Two girls from two very different worlds form an unusual bond while the world around them shapes each in her own way. It takes us on a trip from exuberant child in Bogotá to a refugee shadow in East L.A. and shows us how need or suffering can bend and transform anyone. Despite all of that, this is no sad tale.


The story opens when Chula's mother is looking for a new "girl" to serve as a maid in their middle-class Bogotá household. The maid, Petrona, is in actuality a 13 year old girl who has to work rather than go to school because her family has been through its own horrors as the result of the narco-war and now lives in a sort of shanty-town of pervasive poverty. As the oldest girl of nine children, Petrona has largely become maid and mother figure to her own family and now must become the breadwinner, which brings her to the Santiago household.


Petrona is a mystery to Chula and her sister Cassandra, who hunt the neighborhood for the Lost Souls of Purgatory and play "ding-dong-ditch" all the while trying out the adult words that swim in their minds. They wonder if she is a poet, saint, witch or possibly under a spell. Passionate Chula is impressed with how little Petrona speaks and counts every syllable that comes from her mouth. She is a mystery in their otherwise conventional lives.


Behind all the childrens' silliness is the very real war of Pablo Escobar with the Colombian and US governments. In Chula's voice Escobar is both a television star and an entirely inhuman monster, an ever-present source of questions and gossip who serves as an entrée into the grown-up world. The Santiagos work around Escobar's war in the most mundane ways. He is an unusual inconvenience for a family that wants to go to the mall or a movie until events and the news press their way into Chula's consciousness.


The book overlays a story onto a real timeline of Colombia. True historical events happen in the fictional story. It's done with a deft grace and while it's not a history book, there are events in this book that even I, an American 'tween at the time, still remember.


Real heart runs through all of the characters in this story. From the always-working Papá and his observation that the cows may have recently read Sartre to Mamá's advice on dealing with men and other beings to Petrona's thoughts and private worries and the two Santiago sisters who are strong-willed each in her own way.


Eventually, after the Santiago family has welcomed Petrona as much as they ever will and Chula gets her wish of a real bond with Petrona, the country's horrors force their way through the Santiago's door and Chula is forced to begin to grow up -- differently, though correspondingly -- to the way Petrona had before the two ever met.


Ingrid Rojas Contreras gives us a very authentic child's voice with laugh-aloud moments and devastating truths sometimes in the same sentence. Chula is haunted by images and events in the way only children can be -- simple and profound all at once. I've been asked not to quote, but I found this a welcome rendering of a fascinating girl that took me back to the magical kingdom of childhood.


And then it dumped me, along with Chula and Petrona and all the other characters into the confusing world of adulthood with all its cloying tragedy, but we are all still alive.


The novel deals deftly with class differences and the way having enough or far too little molds children. It does a commendable job at showing the way tragedy can morph a confident and spirited child into a anxious mute, squelching any room for passion or flights of fancy. The only thing I want now is to know what became of these two young women after the book ended. I do so wish I could quote the final sentence, uttered in Petrona's voice...


My copy has so much highlighting noted as "beautiful" or that made me giggle at Chula's strong spirit, the highlights became useless. Fruit of the Drunken Tree broke my heart a hundred times and fully restored it almost every time. So good, though I've read it, I finished and immediately pre-ordered a hardback copy to keep for myself and read again.


magical realism:

2 : a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction (from Merriam Webster)


The book isn't being marketed, at least in its advanced review copy, as magical realism, and I don't really think it is. But since the story is told through the eyes of a child, and children live in their sometimes magical imaginations perhaps especially children raised in the Catholic religion, this broadly fits the category and would probably appeal to anyone who can immerse themselves fully in the world of a lusciously-written character on a page.


I received an advanced reader's copy of Fruit of the Drunken Tree from NetGalley and this is my honest review.


A few interesting Colombia/Author things:

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review 2017-11-04 14:06
Ascension of Larks by Rachel Linden
Ascension of Larks - Rachel Linden

When globetrotting photographer Magdalena Henry loses the only man she’s ever loved, she risks her stellar career to care for his widow and young children on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Free-spirited and fiercely independent, Maggie adores her life of travel and adventure. But she has a secret. She can’t let go of her first and only love, renowned architect Marco Firelli, now married to her best friend Lena.

When Marco drowns in a kayaking accident, Maggie rushes to the Firelli family’s summer home on San Juan Island. Once there she discovers that Marco was hiding something that could destroy his family. As fragile, perfectionistic Lena slowly falls apart, Maggie tries to provide stability for Marco and Lena’s three young children. When Maggie is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to compete in the world’s most prestigious photography competition, she thinks she’s found the answer to their problems. Then Lena makes a choice with unexpected and devastating consequences, forcing Maggie to grapple with an agonizing decision. Does she sacrifice the golden opportunity of her career or abandon the Firellis just when they need her the most? Gradually the island begins to work its magic. A century-old ritual to beckon loved ones home offers hope in the midst of sorrow. And a guilt-ridden yet compelling stranger hiding on the island may offer Maggie a second chance at love, but only if she can relinquish the past and move forward to find joy in unexpected places.





For years, globetrotting photographer Magdalena "Maggie" Henry has been in love with her first love, architect Marco Firelli, whom she met in college. Problem is, Marco is married to Maggie's best friend (and college roommate) Lena. Or at least he was, that is...Maggie just got news that Marco has been killed in a kayaking accident. Now Maggie must rush to Lena's side to offer emotional support to the fragile widow as well as help with the Firelli children. 


While helping Lena through this difficult time, Maggie can't help but revisit old emotions she thought she had overcome. Memories of early days with Marco come swirling back, the possessiveness she felt over him, having known him first before introducing Lena to him. Lena had tearily confessed that she was struggling to make friends at school. Thinking she was doing a good friend a favor, Maggie introduces Lena to Marco, having no idea that the two would hit it off quite so well, quietly slipping under her radar and falling in love. Though she loves (in different ways) both of them, she can't help but feel a combination of jealousy and annoyance at the turn of events. 


So as you can guess, it was largely an unrequited love for Maggie. Marco expresses interest, even a love of sorts, but confesses being drawn to Lena because he and Maggie are too alike in their intense, all-consuming artistic temperaments while Lena was more level-headed and easy-going in nature, more suitable for building a life & family with him. Taking into account Maggie's behavior up to the moment of this confession of Marco's --- her desperately reading into every passing glance from the guy, speaking of them as "kindred spirits", "twin souls" etc --, she likely found this revealing speech quite romantic. To me, however, it came off more as "let her down easy" spin.


But rather than go the crazy "he's MINE!" route, Maggie bows out of the running with a fair amount of grace, serving as main witness at Lena & Marco's wedding and then promptly starting up her work as globetrotting picture-taker extraordinaire.  Over the years, the trio is able to put the college drama behind them and become the close-knit crew they were before. Maggie even becomes "Aunt Maggie" to the Firelli children as they grow up. Now, in the wake of tragedy, Maggie doesn't hesitate to be at Lena's side. But only too late does she realize the timing could not be worse. 


While staying with Lena and the kids, Maggie's agent calls to notify her that she has been offered an opportunity to submit some of her work to one of the most prestigious photography competitions in the world. But how is she to find the time to prepare a presentation for submission in the mix of everything else going on? Will she have to decide between helping a friend and need and jumping at the chance of a lifetime (professionally), or will the fates allow her to have a solution to both?


There is also the mystery of this Daniel guy who spends most of the book hanging out creeper-style in Lena's bushes, observing the family from afar, always hesitating to reveal himself. What is his connection to Marco's death and what does he feel so guilty about? 


One of my favorite aspects of Ascension of Larks was the exceptional environment building author Rachel Linden offers. Whether on location with Maggie in Nicaragua, moving through her memories to past international travels, or at the Firelli summer home in the Pacific Northwest (where the bulk of the novel is set), the reader is fantastically immersed in the textures of all the various landscapes. Just as an example, check out this little snippet where Maggie recalls a distinct memory of her Puerto Rican mother:


The kitchen was always warm, redolent with the smell of cilantro and oregano, and in the background, playing on the crackly cassette player on the fridge, was the music of her mother's youth -- folk singers like Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary, songs of peace and protest from the sixties. Ana had especially favored Joan Baez and Linda Ronstadt because of their Hispanic heritage. She would let Maggie rifle through the shoe box of cassettes and choose one tape after another. In those moments, in the tiny kitchen with a pot bubbling on the stove and the calls for peace and love ringing out with the strains of guitar and tambourine, it felt as though nothing could touch them, as though if they could stay there in the kitchen forever, nothing bad would ever happen.


That being said, the plot itself had its share of tiring moments for me. I enjoyed the secondary characters such as Daniel and the charming motorcycle riding Pastor Griffin (the way Linden writes his character reminded me a bit of John Corbin's portrayal of the DJ Chris on the 90s tv show Northern Exposure). But storyline-wise, it veered on the soapy, most noticeably when it came to Lena's accident. When Lena acts all weird at breakfast that day, I immediately guessed (correctly) where Linden was headed with the plot. And that is where a good chunk of my investment in the plot checked out! 


Still, this novel offers up another, unexpected but important side story that serves almost as a moral lesson to readers with children -- the importance of having your final wishes regarding dependents, godparents, etc all clearly outlined on paper! What Linden illustrates here, the power of the state to come in and completely tear up a home because they don't agree with the living arrangements (regardless of how happy and well-taken care of the children seem) is seriously terrifying! I don't even have kids and I was disturbed at the thought! So, people, get your final wishes on paper! 


The children's lives were suddenly being decided by people who understood the letter of the law but knew nothing about them, not who they were and certainly not what was truly in their best interest. They didn't know Gabby would fall asleep only if Bun Bun's head was tucked under her chin, or that you had to keep sweet snacks hidden behind the bins of beans and flour in the cupboard so Luca couldn't sneak them. And Jonah... she winced when she thought of Jonah, those dark, somber eyes and the downward slope of his young shoulders. He was a little boy carrying a misplaced guilt so heavy it was slowly crushing him. 


While maybe the plot fell short for me here, as I mentioned earlier I did quite enjoy Linden's writing style in general and would be interested to check out more of her work in the future. 


FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2017-10-30 21:17
Camino de Hormigas by Miguel Huezo Mixco
Camino de Hormigas - Miguel Huezo Mixco

This was a somewhat confusing book, at least for me reading in my second language. We start off reading about an older man from El Salvador who lives and works in a stable in California, and has written a manuscript based on his experiences fighting in the war there, which he mails to an unknown friend. The protagonist of the novella isn’t the narrator from the frame story – or is he? The last chapter seems to blur the line between the two, while each individual chapter slips between multiple time periods and focuses on a different episode from the protagonist’s life. Although the backdrop is the war, the episodes are about the protagonist’s many sexual and romantic liaisons. I never really lost the sense that I’d rather have read the “true” story about the fictional writer’s past than about the misadventures of his promiscuous alter ego.

Nevertheless, the book was engaging enough (and short), and while the protagonist didn’t especially interest me, the women he got involved with did. I also learned a bit about El Salvador, its war and the lives of the guerrilleros. To my knowledge this hasn’t been translated to English, but I think it is likely worth translating.

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