Life on The Farm was a mi­cro­cosm of greater Colom­bia

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Books -

THE re­cent his­tory of Colom­bia has been marred by a bru­tal civil war be­gin­ning in the early 1960s and con­tin­u­ing on and off right up un­til 2016 when the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment and the guerilla group FARC signed a peace deal.

The con­flict had bro­ken pre­vi­ous deals but the signs are that the coun­try has moved away from armed con­flict and to­wards an era of peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. When events es­ca­lated in the 1990s it was in ru­ral Colom­bia where much of the vi­o­lence was played out. The coun­try­side be­came a bat­tle­ground where land and prop­erty were seized and in­no­cent civil­ians were of­ten kid­napped or mur­dered. It is this back­ground that in­forms The Farm, a newly trans­lated novel from the highly re­garded Colom­bian nov­el­ist, jour­nal­ist and ed­i­tor Héc­tor Abad.

The story of the farm, known as La Oculta, is a mi­cro­cosm of the story of Colom­bia it­self. It is told by three nar­ra­tors; Eva, Pi­lar and An­to­nio the very dif­fer­ent sib­lings who are the heirs to the prop­erty. The nar­ra­tive opens with the death of their mother and An­to­nio, who lives in New York, re­flects that Colom­bia for him “was my mother, my sis­ters and La Oculta, our hide­away farm”.

An­to­nio is in­ter­ested in the his­tory of the land and has traced its de­vel­op­ment from jun­gle to cof­fee farm, cat­tle ranch and now a small coun­try house. An­to­nio’s pas­sion for the his­tory of the farm and the place it­self is tem­pered by re­al­ity. The light, the heat and the sounds of the farm stay with him when he re­turns to New York, but he ad­mits that he left an area that was an “in­tol­er­ant, racist, ho­mo­pho­bic, con­ser­va­tive place”.

The two sis­ters, Eva and Pi­lar, are also af­fected by events at La Oculta over the years and have con­flict­ing thoughts on what to do with the farm now both par­ents are dead. Eva wants to be rid of it, her feel­ings for the place have been for­ever al­tered by a trau- matic ex­pe­ri­ence at La Oculta, one which left her flee­ing for her life.

Pi­lar’s son Lu­cas was kid­napped by gueril­las when he was only seven­teen and this com­bined with the death of her fa­ther at around the same time has ac­tu­ally strength­ened rather than weak­ened her bond to the place. The dilemma of what to do now al­lows Abad to ex­plore the re­la­tion­ship be­tween past and present por­tray­ing a coun­try and a peo­ple that have suf­fered much.

Abad him­self suf­fered dur­ing the pe­riod of un­rest. In 1987 his fa­ther, a prom­i­nent doc­tor and hu­man rights leader, was mur­dered by paramil­i­taries. Fear­ing for his own life Abad went into ex­ile in Spain and then Italy be­fore even­tu­ally re­turn­ing to a more peace­ful Colom­bia in 2008. His ex­pe­ri­ences have given him a pow­er­ful in­sight into the tri­als and tribu­la­tions that have af­fected the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Abad’s writ­ing is clear and mov­ing with­out ever be­com­ing sen­ti­men­tal and the three nar­ra­tors al­low the story to be told from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives.

The Farm is a novel that high­lights both the im­por­tance of re­mem­ber­ing the past and also of the need to move on. As Abad has said in a re­cent in­ter­view, “Try to live bet­ter right now, in the present”, com­pro­mises are made but as the book ends “the si­lence starts filling up with bird­song”.

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