'Fiebre Tropical' by Juliana Delgado Lopera

'The mere idea of having pieces of her in my pores gave me an excruciating thrill that I just couldn't stand.'—Review #163

Hope you’re all enjoying the long weekend. I didn’t know much about Juliana Delgado Lopera’s novel when I picked it up at the LGBTQ table in the Strand Bookstore a few months ago, but I had seen it mentioned on various book-related social media spaces, and I loved the cover design so I figured I’d give it a try.

Here’s the cover:

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Francisca is a teenager who, along with her mother, grandmother and sister, emigrated from Colombia to live in a cramped townhouse in:

The story begins with Francisca, an independent spirit, chafing against her new life in the United States. She resists her mother’s devotion to an evangelical Christian church and favors wearing all black and listening to bands like The Cure. Because the church composes much of their world, Francisca encounters Carmen, the daughter of one of the church’s leaders. The duo is assigned to travel to various locations in the area to hand out religious fliers that proclaim ‘Jesucristo Vendrá, Are You Ready?’ Carmen and Francisca become close friends through their church work, and in one scene, while Francisca is braiding Carmen’s hair, she discovers:

While Francisca wrestles with her sexual identity, we see her mother, Mami (Myriam), and her grandmother, La Tata (Alba), grapple with their own issues. La Tata spends the day watching television while having Francisca secretly mix nips of rum into her Sprite cans. Mami seems on the verge of an emotional collapse after a miscarriage and a divorce drove her to leave Bogotá for the U.S. Her immersion in the church is her way to avoid processing her grief and shattered dreams, but Mami’s unresolved trauma manifests through questionable interactions with one of Francisca’s friends as well as her hair falling out, like:

I like how Lopera crafts the story so we catch glimpses of the adult characters’ private despair through Francisca’s narration, which demonstrates how little teenagers really know about what their parents and grandparents go through. What I liked best, though, was Lopera’s writing. They (Lopera uses they/them pronouns, according to their author bio) blended English and Spanish together into a voice that feels fresh, confident and energetic, and into a narrative that wasn’t confusing or disjointed for me, a reader who never studied Spanish. Their writing was vivid, especially when it came to describing various body excretions, food stains on characters’ faces and how hot Miami is. The dank humidity radiated off the pages, and I felt like I could almost smell this book as every character was like:

I took ‘Fiebre Tropical’ with me on a weekend trip away, and I found it initially difficult to get into. But once I returned home and was able to focus on the story, I enjoyed it. I’m excited to see what Lopera writes next. If you’re looking for a uniquely written story about communities underserved in literature, you should check out this book.

How it begins:

Buenos días, mi reina. Immigrant criolla here reporting desde los Mayamis from our ant-infested townhouse. The broken air conditioner above the TV, the flowery couch, La Tata half-drunk directing me in this holy radionovela brought to you by Female Sadness Incorporated. That morning as we unpacked the last of our bags, we’d found Tata’s old radio. So the two of us practiced our latest melodrama in the living room while on the TV Don Francisco saluted el pueblo de Miami ¡damas y caballeros! and Tata—at her age!—to Mami’s exasperation and my delight went girl crazy over his manly voice.

Y como quien no quiere la cosa, Mami angrily turned off the stove, where La Tata had left the bacalao frying unattended, then Lysol-sprayed the countertops, smashing the dark trail of ants hustling some pancito for their colony behind the fridge. Girlfriend was pissed. She hadn’t come to the U S of A to kill ants and smell like puto pescado, and how lovely would it have been if the housekeeper could have joined us on the plane? Then Mami could leave her to the household duties and concentrate on the execution of this Migration Project. Pero, ¿aló? Is she the only person awake en esta berraca casa?

My rating:

‘Fiebre Tropical’ by Juliana Delgado Lopera was published by The Feminist Press at the City University of New York in 2020. 281 pages. $16.51 at Bookshop.org.

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