A Review of Zoraida Córdova’s “The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina”
Putting the “Fab” in Fabulism
After reading Zoraida Córdova’s The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, I think I’ve finally determined one thing: if you want to read magic realism done right, your best bet would be to turn to an author born in South America who works in the genre. After all, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the best books of its type, if not one of the best books of the 20th century. In the case of The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, its author (Zoraida Córdova) was born in Ecuador and part of the novel is set there. It is a flipping fantastic book that blends magic with reality seamlessly. I’m sure there are other examples of South American writers who have mined the genre of magical realism, but these two examples are what I’m confronted with now and in the case of the latter (though One Hundred Years of Solitude is no slouch, but can be a difficult read) you absolutely need to go out and devour it. It is breathtakingly brilliant and easily the sort of book you can get lost in for hours at a time.
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is an example of one of those books that are better the less you know about it before reading. Thus, if you intend to read this novel, I advise you to stop reading right here and go directly to the book instead. However, if you need a guide, the book concerns a woman named Orquídea Montoya who has magically created a house for herself in a small town somewhere in America. (We do eventually find out what state the book is set in, but I don’t want to ruin this detail because it’s a secret that gets revealed only halfway through the novel — and possibly only if you’re really paying attention. It’s also the kind of missing detail that makes the book feel more magical at its outset.) Orquídea is a woman who is cursed with bad luck: she’s been through five husbands and sired nine children through them, some of which have had the family curse passed down to them in some way. In any event, Orquídea gathers the entire family together on the day she will die so she will pass on her inheritance to her descendants. However, seven years after the event, a strange man starts stalking certain family members, some of them die mysteriously, and it’s up to a few cousins to travel to Ecuador to discover truths about the family’s past that can put an end to the strange goings-on.
If that description wasn’t enough of a tip-off, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a book about family secrets and how families are bonded through them. However, there’s more to the novel than that. The book is about why certain people run from a heritage or a hometown, only to wind up in a place (such as America) where you may be looked upon with scorn or disrespect. That all said, though, the novel can also be read free of any context and just be enjoyed as a peculiar, but beguiling read. The book does feel — in a good way — that the author is making things up as she goes along in the sense that there’s a surprise around every corner and things happen that are quite unexpected. It also helps that the magic feels believable and Old World-ly, even if the source of that magic might lead the reader to ask all sorts of questions that don’t really get answered. However, what novel is perfect?
In fact, if I had any real complaints about this book, it is that when the family comes together to send off the main character, there are 16 Montoyas present — with an extra handful that make an appearance from the other side of the family tree. I guess that, in that section of the novel, you’re sort of forced to keep track of more than 20 potential main characters. However, there are two rebuttals to this criticism that I came up with: we are introduced to the three main protagonists as characters who will make the journey to Ecuador early in the book, giving us main characters to follow. Secondly, well, the stuffing of characters during the “wake” section of the book only enhances its readability. (Meaning, you might want to re-read it again at some point to make sense of who is who.) Aside from that, though, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is a nearly pitch-perfect book — a novel of its type that I haven’t read in some time now. It is absolutely enthralling, and a must-read for anyone who enjoys dark fantasy.
There’s enough material here for a series of novels, in that there are plenty of backstories that are not revealed (so what about Orquídea’s husbands — what happened to most of them?) to merit a revisiting of this world. Even though not every loose end is pulled together, the plot is weaved around one aspect of the main character’s past life as a circus attraction and is done so in an entertainingly literary way. This is the type of novel that Nebulas should be handed out for because this is the stuff that makes sense (no massive nonsensical info dumps here!) and features characters that you can care about. The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is one of those novels that are simply enjoyable on their own terms. Basically said, this is one terrific novel, and you should waste absolutely no time going to the local bookstore and finding a copy of this one not for your bookshelf, but to move to the front of your TBR pile and read. It’s a charming delight that deserves to gather no dust bunnies, and you should really pass this off to a friend when you’re done. It’s that good, that amazing: it’s heaven in a book, and that’s all I want to say about these types of books from South American writers!
Zoraida Córdova’s The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina will be published in paperback by Atria Books on July 5, 2022.
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