Life on The Farm was a microcosm of greater Colombia
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”.