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by Leila Cobo

Pub Date: Feb. 29th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-446-51938-0
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

A capable though lackluster second novel from Colombian-American novelist Cobo (Tell Me Something True, 2009) about an American man searching Bogotá for his birthmother. 

The book begins in Colombia during the era of guerrillas and paramilitary fighters and small towns that are captive to their power struggles. A quiet village is invaded by a group of guerrilla soldiers from the mountains, and their leader Gato has taken a shine to Rita Ortiz, a prim, studious girl. Armed and dangerous, Gato, or Lucas, is really just a boy himself, and the two teenagers sneak off for afternoon trysts. When his commanding officer discovers the affair, Lucas is sent back to their mountain camp as punishment. This could have been merely a bump in Rita’s well-planned life, but soon she discovers she’s pregnant and is sent away before she shames her strict family. She lives in an orphanage while pregnant and works at a flower farm, giving up her baby as soon as he is born. Despite having been a top student with dreams for a prosperous future, Rita stays away from her family and takes a job as a maid. Her baby is adopted by an American couple; two decades later, after a near-fatal car accident (one that ruins his future as a soccer player), Asher Stone goes to Colombia in search of his mother. Though he has caring parents, he asks the same questions many adopted children have: Who I am, I and where do I come from? How Rita Ortiz disappears and reemerges as Joanna López is a far more interesting story than Asher’s search for answers, and when the novel leaves Rita it slows to a halt with Asher’s musings about his origins. It is not clear why his brush with death has sent him halfway around the world. Instead of a focused urgency, his search holds a kind of vague desperation that loses the reader’s attention.  

The heart of the novel—about a young Colombian girl—shines, but the search for an adoptive mother feels uninspired.