Pensive novel, by noted Colombian writer Abad (Oblivion: A Memoir, 2012, etc.), of a rural family torn by conflict and incomprehension.
Pilar lives on La Oculta, her family’s farm in Antioquia, the mountainous Colombian province. She is, she declares, uninterested in the past: not her family’s, not that of the people who carved these farms out of the jungle, not that of the revolutionary movement that has torn the land in civil war. “That’s nothing to do with me,” she declares in a moment of anti–Marquez-ian repudiation. Still, as Abad’s novel opens, the past is laid out before Pilar, her sister, Eva, and her brother, Antonio, whom Eva summons with the bad news from Pilar that their mother has died. Antonio has long since left the countryside for New York, where he plays on the B team of the orchestra, gives violin lessons, and writes old-fashioned formal poems; his American lover, Jon, has formed a deep affection for La Oculta, and now the siblings struggle with what to do with it. Pilar wants to keep it, and so does Antonio, but something dark happened there, so much so that Eva wants nothing to do with her ancestral place. Abad slowly reveals what that is while differentiating the three, who share resemblances while being very different people who, deep into adulthood, have drifted very far apart. Abad studs his novel with sharply drawn aperçus: “Beauty is like a prison sentence: it opens all doors to you and then closes them,” says the ascetic Pilar, while Antonio, who professes to love each sister equally, muses on the many ways they have rebelled against the past: “It’s impossible to dictate rules that contradict human nature,” he resolves, even as Pilar invents new rules to chase away chaos and the world-weary Eva transgresses them—and even as La Oculta becomes a very different place from the one they knew.
A graceful story that takes its time to unfold, with much roiling under the surface of the narrative.