My friend Robin Bayley, author of this very moving story, gave me a freshly just out of print copy of The Mango Orchard in December. We agreed that it would be the perfect opportunity for me to read it on my way to Mexico for the Christmas holidays. Eleven hours on a plane, come on! there is no excuse not to do some reading. As it happens, I took the book with me and came back to London without reading a single page.
He kindly invited me to the book launch this coming Friday 5 March at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon. I thought it would be unacceptable to show up without reading his book. I wanted to avoid the “hey great story, loved it! very interesting! I’ll definitely recommend it ” kind of situation.
The Mango Orchard is the story of the journey that Robin made to re-trace the footsteps of his great-grandfather who lived in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century and left the country when the Mexican Revolution made it too dangerous for him to stay. (I won’t say anything else about the plot because it’s worth reading it.)
In my opinion, the beauty of Robin’s writing is the lack of a patronising point of view towards Latin America which is quite frequent in travel writing in Britain. He just goes with the flow. He does not judge the way things are. No comments on culture shock. Nothing. He comes to us in a completely transparent and honest way describing what he saw, the people he met and overall his thoughts and feelings throughout the journey.
People, of course, play a key part in the story. I think it is through them that Robin, in a very original way, captures the essence of Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico. I believe he is able to achieve this because when this journey took place Robin was already able to speak Spanish and therefore had the unique opportunity of getting very close to his “characters” in the book. As I read, I sometimes forgot these were real people because they could easily come out of a García Márquez novel.
Needless to say, I very much enjoyed the book. There are some truly moving moments as some family secrets are being unfolded. Risking getting emotional, I must confess these kind of stories make me feel I should follow Robin’s footsteps and research, I mean, really research on my family’s past and take the risk of finding not so very nice things. We all have wonderful family stories to tell but only a few are as brave as Robin Bayley to share them with the rest of the world.
The Mango Orchard has a wonderful webiste where you can find out more about the book and his author.