by Zoraida Córdova
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: September 7, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers.
Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.
Magical realism isn’t usually my thing, but I couldn’t resist that unbelievably gorgeous cover. And I am ever so glad I picked this book up. It’s about generational trauma and making a home and family secrets, about how bringing those secrets into the light can wound and heal.
“Orquídea was so many things: evasive, silent, mean, secretive, loving, and a liar.”
Orquídea Montoya was born unlucky, but early on she decided to change her fate. She arrived in the dry and dusty town of Four Rivers one day, and by the next a house and garden had magically grown on the land. And then she settled down to raise her children and grandchildren, all of whom eventually left home, until they receive a summons to her funeral. They return to find their home in shambles, and Orquídea, well, changed. But even then, she refuses to reveal her secrets, like Marimar’s father’s identity or why she’s stayed in Four Rivers all her life. Haunted by Orquídea’s last words – “protect your magic” – her children and grandchildren return (mostly) to their lives, irrevocably changed. But what – or who – are they supposed to protect their magic from?
“What broke your heart so completely that its splinters found their way through generations?”
The book expertly weaves together multiple POV characters, in the present with her grandchildren Marimar, Rey and Tatinelly, and sequentially through Orquídea’s past. Rather than being abrupt, the changes felt seamless. Each of the characters find resonance in bits of their grandmother’s story, from the feeling of being forced from the only home you’ve known to feeling like an exotic creature on display. Each bit of Orquídea’s past they discover unlocks something inside of them, slowly revealing the reasons – and the love and pain – behind her actions. I adored Marimar, the woman who wished for just a little bit of her grandmother’s magic, and Rey, who wished to be an artist but settled instead for the stability of being an accountant. They’re technically cousins, but are more like siblings as Marimar went to live with Rey’s family after her mother died. The warmth of their relationship, how obvious it was that they loved each other even if years would pass between when they’d last seen each other in person, was a balm in a sometimes thorny book. In contrast, Tatinelly’s biggest wish was to be ordinary, so she married in to a very normal family, content, at first, to be far from the magic of Four Rivers. Drawn together by the mystery of who Orquídea was, and then later hunted by one of the secrets from her past, they’re a patchwork kind of family linked together by love and loss.
“There is nothing brighter than a wish. It comes from true hope. Humanity is so full of that. Desperate hope. Joyous hope. Even those in anguish, especially those in anguish, I should say, have hope. It’s the anticipation that tomorrow will be better than the next day.”
Magical realism doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes books seem to lean into the “oh hey yes, that’s just how it is” without any explanation. But in this book, while many of Orquídea’s actions initially seem inexplicable, the reasons behind them become clear as the book progresses. Orquídea means orchid, and the floral symbolism is overt, from the magical roses that bloom (or don’t) on some of her descendants, to the continued talk about putting down roots, to thorns. A family tree can be a complicated, beautiful thing, and the author displays a deep understanding of that, a lot of it through gorgeous and incisive prose. A young Orquídea is described as “a whisper of a girl who wanted to become a scream.” She yearns to be “rooted so deep into the earth that nothing, no human, no force of nature, save an act of the heavens themselves, could rip her out.” And it definitely would’ve taken an act of the heavens to get me to put this book down once it got going! I found the beginning, with the introduction of all of Orquídea’s descendants, a bit slow, but after only a few chapters I was completely entranced. The differences between Orquídea as a child and Orquídea as Marimar and Rey know her were intriguing, and the tension built slowly but progressively until it culminated in a shocking last few chapters.
“Some people were meant for great, lasting legacies. Others were meant for small moments of goodness, tiny but that rippled and grew in big, wide ways.”
Overall, I’d be surprised if this book doesn’t make it on multiple top-ten lists for the year. It’s beautiful and gripping and deeply real, and it left me contemplating what, exactly was Orquídea’s inheritance to her family – and what I want my own family inheritance to be.