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Where There Was Fire

Macmillan Aug. 2023. 10:25 hrs. ISBN 9781250868961. $26.99. F
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In his luminous debut novel, Arias tells the story of a Costa Rican family whose lives are overshadowed by the corrupt American Fruit Company, which maintains a toxic stranglehold over the nation’s fruit production. The book opens in 1968 with a fire that destroys the company’s biggest plantation in Costa Rica, with lasting consequences for the family. That same night sees the tragic death of Teresa Cepeda Valverde’s mother and the disappearance of Teresa’s husband, José María. Arias artfully employs a nonlinear timeline, starting at the fire and then jumping forward and backward in time. This narrative structure keeps listeners engaged, wondering about Teresa’s beloved husband, her mother’s awful death, and the unsettling happenings on the plantation. With crystalline tones, narrator Adriana Sananes skillfully voices a variety of Costa Rican and U.S. accents, employing shifts in tone and pacing to bring out the lyricism of Arias’s prose. While listeners may be intrigued by the mystery, they will be equally enchanted by Arias’s beautiful imagery and language.
VERDICT This tragic, piercingly told tale of a family in flux should resonate with audiences seeking lush, character-driven literary fiction, in the vein of Jhumpa Lahiri and Abraham Verghese.
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