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“The Farm”, by Héctor Abad – (“Det fortabte paradis”) – Juan Diego Castro

The Farm, the latest novel by Héctor Abad —who in Spanish signs his books as Héctor Abad Faciolince— solidifies the author’s position as one of Latin America’s most important contemporary authors. As with his best-known work, Oblivion: A Memoir (2006), The Farm taps the author’s personal and family history, though now, obviously, as full-blown fiction. The Farm is a family saga that begins in the eighteenth century, when a descendant of converted Jews, Abraham Santángel, arrived in the Antioquia region in Colombia; continues to 1861, when Isaías Ángel and Raquel Abadi, a last name soon to be shortened to Abad, help populate the town of Jericó and, in 1886, found La Oculta, the name of the titular farm; to the last three descendants to hold the surname Ángel—Antonio, Pilar, and Eva— who, after suffering the violence of the guerrillas and the even greater brutality of the paramilitaries, decide to sell the majority of the farm, and see it transformed into a subdivision. Narrated in alternating chapters by Antonio, Pilar, and Eva, the novel begins with the death of their mother, Anita. Her passing marks the beginning of the end of La Oculta, since only Pilar has inherited the “need to hold land,” a trait that according to the novel had until then characterized all inhabitants of the region of Antioquia. Despite its full acknowledgement of the horrors that can be found in Colombia’s history, The Farm celebrates this (supposedly non-racist) Colombian Jeffersonian democracy of small landowners, and laments its substitution by a purely market-driven view of the land, as of everything else. The novel can, therefore, be seen as representing the history of Colombia—more exactly, of one way of being Colombian—from the hopes of independence, to the utopian moment that, according to the novel, informed the founding of Jericó, to our con- temporary market-centered reality. But Antonio, Pilar, and Eva can also be seen as representing the dissolution of this earlier Colombia in other ways beyond the breakdown of the landed estates. While Pilar represents residual versions of Colombia —patriarchal, but not abusive; conservative, but not dogmatic— Antonio is gay and lives in New York City with Jon, an African-American artist, while Eva has been married three times, in part due to her inability to tolerate any traditional patriarchal behavior, and, surprisingly, at the end finds a younger female partner. To Abad’s great credit, they are all fully fleshed characters, whose reasons are presented to the reader with clarity and com- passion. In this manner, the appeal of an idealized vision of traditional Colombia does not overshadow emergent and alternative ways of living. (However, the novel acknowledges, though it does not stress, that many of the historical evils of Colombian history were compatible with, if not the result of, this idealized Jeffersonian society. For instance, the paramilitary was created and supported by the region’s landowners). Given the novel’s obvious attempts at creating something like a national allegory, it is tempting to relate The Farm to One Hundred Years of Solitude. Like Gabriel García Márquez’s classic, this is also a story of social foundation, decline, and destruction. Both novels echo the story of Abraham. In fact, the first Ángel to travel to Colombia is named Abraham, Jericó (Jericho) is the name of the town to which Elías (Elijah) arrives and where he founds La Oculta. In fact, in one passage, Antonio retells his family history from Abraham to the founding of La Oculta in a style that resembles that of Genesis. However, as anyone who has read Abad’s earlier work or any contemporary Latin American narrative would expect, The Farm is written in a realistic style far from García Márquez’s magic fancies. Ambitious and highly readable, The Farm  (Det fortabte paradis in Danish) is a major novel by one of Colombia’s major novelists. Despite some flaws —for instance, “negros” is mistranslated as “Negroes,” as if the book had been written in 1950; “conservadores” (conservatives) as “Tories,” as if it were set in England— Anne McLean’s translation does a good job of rendering Abad’s careful prose.

Juan E. De Castro is an Associate Professor in Literary Studies at Eugene Lang College, The New School. He is the author of Mestizo Nations: Culture, Race, and Conformity in Latin American Literature (2002), The Spaces of Latin American Literature: Tradition, Globalization and Cultural Production (2008), and Mario Vargas Llosa: Public Intellectual in Neoliberal Latin America (2011).

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