In this novel set in the 1970s and early ’80s, a free-spirited American girl struggles to fit in on a coffee plantation in the Colombian Andes.
Debut novelist MacKinnon tells the story of Alicia Collier, a young woman with no particular home and little connection to her family. American-born Alicia has lived all over the world, especially South America, as a result of her father’s job for the U.S. Agency for International Development. By the time she begins college in Virginia, she has spent more time outside the U.S. than in it, so it’s no surprise when she decides to follow her Colombian boyfriend, Jorge, to his country for the summer. Before long, she becomes pregnant and feels trapped into accepting Jorge’s marriage proposal. Alicia rapidly becomes a part of the Carvallo coffee farm and, after a series of calamities, ends up running it alone. She tries to acclimate, and it seems she might resign herself to her situation over time. That is, until Peter Shalmers arrives from America. Peter comes to Colombia in search of gold and other treasures indigenous to the dense cloud forest. As he accepts hospitality from the Carvallo family, he and Alicia gravitate toward each other. An aspiring botanist, Alicia is quick to accompany Peter on tours of the forest, and her affection for him grows beyond her control. In the midst of this familial and romantic drama are many compelling, detailed descriptions of the rain forest. MacKinnon brings to life the forest’s flora and fauna, the ominous and ever-present wildlife, and the tribal people hiding in the forest. The author’s meticulous detail and knowledge of the locale bring a unique richness to the novel. Although the narrative pacing at times slows to a crawl, MacKinnon redeems the tale through the glory of the surroundings she describes. As complications unfold in Alicia’s marriage and her relationship with Peter evolves, readers will wonder along with Alicia whether the Carvallo coffee finca is really where she belongs after all.
A quiet romantic adventure well-suited for those who enjoy travelogues.