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The Hacienda: A Memoir by Lisa St. Aubin De…

The Hacienda: A Memoir

by Lisa St. Aubin De Teran

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"Over and over again before I ever went there, I heard the name 'La Hacienda'. It was a place where sugar-cane grew in unimaginable abundance and avocado pears that dwarfed all others. It was a place without any clear dimensions: a frontierless tract of land steeped in history..."

With these words, Terán begins her poetic memoir of the seven years she spent on the generations old Venezuelan hacienda she inherited upon marrying her husband. To say that this book was eye-opening is an understatement. It's a page-turning adventure, reminiscent of Heart of Darkness.

A child bride when she arrives at Santa Rita, la gente, families and workers alike who have been sustained by their patrons for generations, have little respect or faith in Lisa's abilities to run the hacienda. Neglected for many years after her husband fled the country as a political criminal, and continues to shirk his responsibilities upon their return, the full power and responsibility to run the hacienda is thrown onto her shoulders. All at once, she must master the language, culture, flora and fauna, acquaint herself with the farming business, and become immune to Andean illnesses.

If you read the synopsis of this book, you'll quickly learn that Don Jaime, Lisa's husband, is kinda nuts. His rages and disappearances are strange. As she relates her experiences, incorporating many letters to her mother in London, it's what she often leaves out of these letters that is so compelling. Abundant in poetic descriptions of plant and wildlife, I imagined I'd traveled deep into the Andes myself. This woman can write! Depression, loneliness, elation, love, longing, fear, dread...it's all here, and fleshed out in such vivid language and word pictures.

"The cog wheels of the elements undid what the people with their ant-like toil had done. Storms, floods, earthquakes, fires and disease ruled over the hills and valleys with an incomprehensible tyranny. The uncertainty of life swung like random blades cutting the people down without any warning. Life had to be lived for the day, the future was always too unsure...Merely staying alive was an achievement, surviving for another day was cheating destiny."

"The longer I stayed on the hacienda, the more I became swallowed up by it. It was like the medicinal plants I had taken to studying, it could both kill and cure. It was like the boa constrictors the workmen found sometimes in the sugar-cane fields. It wrapped itself around a passing stranger, it squeezed and crushed until it had broken every single bone, then it slimed over its prey and engorged it, bit by bit, until no trace was left except for a transitory bulge. Eventually, that too would go and nothing would be left but the beautiful, powerful snake, waiting lazily for its next meal to wander by."

And perhaps my favorite passage from this book:

"Hope is a weed. It grows out of nowhere, it flourishes on the most barren places...There, on Santa Rita, I clung to hope, I spoon fed it, coaxed and cajoled it as I did my pets and sheep and trees. I built my house on grains of rock, magnifying them. I found a way to see light in the dark tunnels of that desolation."

I am ready to read everything else this woman has written. Bubba and I both agreed this book is worthy of a full paw rating, with a dew claw thrown in for good measure. If this book begins when she is 16 and ends when she's 25, I know her later memoirs are even more adventurous. Can't wait to get my hands on them. Throughout the book, she references all the people who encouraged her to write. I'm glad she took their advice. ( )
  dreamydress48 | Jun 10, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316816884, Paperback)

A child bride leaves England for a life of unimaginable cruelty, isolation, and beauty in this memoir that reads like the most magical of novels. Married at the age of 17, Lisa St. Aubin de Terán hardly knows her Venezuelan husband Jaime--and learns Spanish only to find that he seldom speaks in that language, either. Nonetheless, he persuades her to return with him to his hacienda, a sugar-cane and avocado plantation perched high in the Andean foothills. Here, her romantic notions of South American life soon wash away in the constant drizzle; the hacienda lies in near-ruins, and her husband's relatives treat her like a pariah--and a half-witted one at that. Jaime disappears for days, then weeks at a time, leaving her without food or money in a leaky, tin-roofed shack, surrounded by peasants who make the sign against the evil eye at her approach. In the years to come, St. Aubin de Terán finds inner reserves of strength she didn't know she possessed, learning to run the hacienda, earning the respect of la gente, bearing a daughter, and, most importantly, discovering the pleasures and consolations of writing. Meanwhile, her husband descends into unpredictable fits of violence and rage, and as his madness escalates, the increasingly ill and weak St. Aubin de Terán must find a way to smuggle herself and her daughter out of the country before he murders them both. Without resorting to either sentiment or self-pity, St. Aubin de Terán has created a loving portrait of a place and people that seem lifted from another century entirely.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:45 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Lisa St Aubin de Teran tells her own story in this remarkable and haunting memoir of her years on a vast sugar plantation deep in the jungles of Venezuela.

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