A couple purchases a dilapidated estate and moves to a remote region of Colombia in this short novel, originally published in 1983 and González's first to be translated into English.
The story opens with a fitting image: J. and Elena’s luggage is on the roof of a bus, surrounded by tropical commodities—“bunches of plantains, sacks of rice, blocks of unrefined sugar cane wrapped in dried banana leaves.” They have come to the finca seeking an escape from the pressure and pretensions of city life. At first, they are busy and relatively happy in their new home. Elena, who enjoys cleaning, begins the task of clearing the house while J. takes inventory of their material needs with the help of his overseer. In a short time, however, J. and Elena find themselves fighting dire financial straits , unrelenting winter rains and mounting tensions in their relationship. As that opening image reveals, they’ve carried all their baggage along with them. J. joins the lumber business, hiring men to destroy the forests he had found so beautiful. Ironically, the timber is often too poorly cut to yield a profit. Seeing this, J. believes the failed endeavor has “plunged him into an absurd vortex of senselessness and death.” Elena, for her part, is less troubled by the hypocrisy of their position. She frequently expresses contempt for the locals and has a barbed wire fence built around their property. As the story progresses, J. and Elena continue to frustrate their own dreams, heading toward certain catastrophe. The vivid language yields slightly to the heavy foreshadowing and ominous tone that dominate the end. Yet despite the unsurprising conclusion, the novel leaves its mark.
In a cautionary tale with a familiar moral, the arresting prose and complex characters shine.