WHERE THERE WAS FIRE – John Manuel Arias – Uncovering History’s Wounds.

A captivating first work full of mysteries and sorrow.

By John Manuel Arias ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 19, 2023

A Costa Rican family is torn apart by multiple tragedies over several generations. On a fateful night in 1968, Lyra and Carmen’s grandmother passes away and their father, José María, sets fire to the American Fruit Company, the banana plantation where he works, and then disappears. This causes their mother, Teresa, to become distraught and flee to Washington, D.C. for six years with no contact, leaving the sisters in the care of their godmothers. Teresa had already experienced loss related to the plantation, as her father had worked there as a corporate lawyer until he too vanished one day.

In 1995, Lyra is estranged from her mother and is raising Carmen’s son, 10-year-old Gabriel, as her own following Carmen’s death by suicide when he was a newborn. Lyra is now working as an infertility counselor in San José and meets a patient who used to work at the American Fruit Company and who has a box of documents he was supposed to destroy. Lyra begins to research the wrongdoings of the company that fractured her family, while also considering whether to reconcile with her mother, who has recently been diagnosed with cancer, and be honest with Gabriel about his family.

Arias’ debut novel examines the devastating impact of imperialism through a kaleidoscope of moments in multiple time periods. The story is filled with spirits and omens, and the reader is left to piece together knowledge alongside Lyra, even though the truth will come too late to heal the wounds left behind. Arias does a good job of balancing the weight of a family drama with a broader depiction of Costa Rican history, though the characters could be more fully developed and not all the pieces come together for the reader.

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Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2023
ISBN: 9781250817389

Page Count: 288
Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2023