Thursday, June 10, 2010

Back from Vacation/"The Hacienda" (1997)

I've been back from vacation (southern Utah and San Diego) for nearly a week and half now, but am so busy trying to catch up that I haven't had a chance to post. Southern Utah was absolutely sublime; I'll write much more about that as the weeks go on and I get a chance to sort through the 1,200 images I made there.

In the meantime, a book I finished--nay, devoured--while on vacation: The Hacienda, by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran. A friend gave me this book several years ago, but it sat on my "going to get around to reading" shelf, but never made it to the top. Then, in casting around for a book to accompany me on vacation, I decided finally to tackle The Hacienda.

The book is a memoir, but sort of a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness memoir. It doesn't proceed chronologically, which was a bit of an affront to my arrow-straight, anal-retentive personality. And, realistically, it made the account a bit of a challenge to follow since time was mutable. But the book was a haunting and often harrowing recollection of a very young Englishwoman's transplantation to a decaying agricultural estate in the foothills of the Venezuelan Andes. St. Aubin de Teran tells an amazing tale of endurance by detailing her day-to-day combat with nature--human and otherwise.

Lisa St. Aubin was a romantic 17-year-old when she marries an exiled Venezuelan aristocrat, Jamie de Teran, 20 years her senior. Seduced by tales of his ancestral home, she leaves England for the Teran's vast Venezuelan sugar cane plantation. Soon after her arrival there, though, the fantasy disintegrates and Lisa finds herself trapped in an exotic and unfamiliar world, married to a man who grows increasingly unstable, and counting as her closest companions a pet vulture, two pedigreed beagles, and the illiterate peasants who live and work on the estate. Through the seven years that follow, Lisa discovers a reservoir of personal strength and, in the end, uses it to save her life.

In her review of the book, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times wrote, "It reads like a combination of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Daphne du Maurier..." and I have to agree that she was spot-on in her observation. The story borders on the unbelievable and, for the first forty pages or so, I nearly put the book down because I just couldn't buy the Gothic quality of it all. But, after a while, the allure of the story drew me in completely and I honestly had to decide whether I wanted to keep reading or go hiking in the slickrock canyons just a few miles away. (Incidentally, the hikes always won out; I relaxed and read after dinner).

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