Magical Realism. I’m sure someone, somewhere has written a dissertation on the importance of magical realism to Latin American culture and the way that folklore and magic are woven into every day to present a fascinating genre of literature. Every book I’ve ever read that can be labeled magical realism is unlike anything else I’ve ever read, even within the genre. “The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina” by Ecuadorian Zoraida Cordova is no different.
An intergenerational family drama, “The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina” expertly weaves between the presentday in Four Rivers and Orquídea’s journey from her home of Ecuador across the border. It tells the story of the magic house that built itself, the five husbands she lost along the way, and the deal she made that would forever alter the course of her life and that of other descendants. Orquídea Divina is a complete mystery to her family, no one really knowing how old she is or how she got to Four Rivers, and reading her history alongside the present-day timeline feels like you’re let in on a deep secret. As the book alternates timelines, the reader is left constantly wanting more from the most recent timeline they’ve read.
When the book begins, Orquídea Divina is dying. Before her death, she sends each of her children and grandchildren a handwritten note calling them to her home of Four Rivers, the home she has never left, to give them their inheritance. Her descendants all make their way to Four Rivers hoping to get answers to a life that has been filled with unanswered questions, but Orquídea’s death, or rather her transformation into a tree that grows right in the middle of the house, leaves them with even more questions and heightened family tensions.
Seven years later, the unusual inheritances Orquídea bestowed on her grandchildren have manifested in different ways, but when members of the family start disappearing, her grandchildren set off for Ecuador to try to get answers to the questions their grandmother left behind. In the process, they begin to learn the true story of their grandmother, and finally get answers to the questions they have always sought, but their search for answers only brings them closer to the truth – that Orquídea had been running and that Four Rivers was where she could hide away safely.
With elements of history, magic, and thriller, “The Last Inheritance of Orquídea Divina” is a brilliant new novel that explores magical realism in the modern age and is well worth reading.
And if like me, you’ve watched Disney’s Encanto several times and this sounds familiar, Cordova addressed that in a tweet recently, calling the Disney film “a middle grade Disney version” of her book. More importantly, our Latino stories are finally being told.