Palm Trees in the Snow is a translation of the novel by the Spanish writer, Luz Gabás. The novel addresses the tensions between Spain and it’s colony, Guinea, through the lives of the Rabaltué family. The scope of the novel is ambitious and I really admire the effort of the writer to take on such a sweeping, complex history through the intimate lives of the characters, spanning a period of nearly 50 years. It illuminates a painful period of time for Guinea as it transitions from the oppression of Spanish Colonialism to the horrors of the Macias regime.
I wanted to give the book a perfect 5 because of the difficulty of the topic it tackles, the incredibly beautiful – and tragic – love stories at the heart of the novel, and the modern and trope-free way it engages with the history of colonial and post-independence Guinea. The descriptions are lavish, the language fresh, and the characters drawn in lines both honest and detailed. I was particularly captivated by the attention to details regarding the cultivation of cocoa, and gripped by the depiction of the consequences of that imbalance of power, racism, misogyny and the particular cruelties that typically characterized the relationship between Spain and its colonies.
Throughout I found certain lapses in narration, a fondness for randomly head-hopping, even into the minds of minor characters to convey information that, with some attention, could have been conveyed through dialogue or action. These few moments took me out of the story. Also, in the third part of the novel, there is drawing out of the puzzle that causes Clarence to travel to Guinea that I thought could have been condensed. In addition, some of the character motivations were somewhat confusing – in particular, those of an older Kilian.
That being said, the love story at the heart of this novel is breathtakingly beautiful, transcendent and tragic. What takes place between Kilian, Bisila, Jacobo, Julia Laha, Daniela, Iniko and Clarence is a spectacular metaphor for the beauty, abuses, and complexities of Spain’s relationship to this small colony. Even with its defects, this novel takes control of you and doesn’t let you go. The gorgeous movie of the same name, starring Mario Casas and Berta Vazquez, would merit watching after the reading of the book, as the suspense of the mystery Clarence attempts to solve constitutes the major narrative push for the modern part of the novel. As a writing teacher, I wanted to pull out my red pen a few times. But as a consumer of historical and literary fiction, this book is worth the time to read.
“The footprints of the people who walked together never, never fade away.”
“Both of them would always know that someplace in the world, there existed someone whose scent had invaded their senses, a body whose sweat had drenched their thirsty skin, a body whose taste had sated their needs.”
“We are finally together, the cocoa and the snow.”
“My body is not virgin, but my heart is. I give myself to you.”
“You could have avoided the rain, the damned rain. It insists on punctuating the saddest moments of your life.”
If you’ve read this book, what do you think? Any post-colonial/historical fiction that you’d recommend? Please comment below!