Book Review – The Farm by Hector Abad Faciolince

Hector Abad Faciolince is one of Colombia’s most acclaimed authors today. His latest novel The Farm, has been translated into English. In Spanish, the title of the book is La Oculta – the hidden, a suitable name for the large estate owned by the Angel family. The farm, with its lush agricultural land and an abundance of natural wonders, is tucked away deep in a mountainous region of the tropics, in the province of Antioquia.

Told by three fictional characters, siblings that go by the names of Pilar, Eva and Antonio Angel, the novel reflects Abad’s own life and family history. Hector Abad’s father was a medical doctor, a champion of human rights who believed that health care should be free and accessible to all. Dr. Abad developed the school of public health at the University of Medellin, Colombia, and was a respected educator – until the day he was murdered by a para-military group for voicing his liberal views.

The Farm is the place that draws the three narrators together. Through each one we learn and come to understand what the land means to them. Pilar, the oldest, is a traditional, conservative, religious housewife, who is a grandmother and very attached to the land. Pilar is stuck in her ways, yearns for things to remain as they were and has difficulty understanding the changes that are taking place in society. She looks for ways to keep the farm viable even though its upkeep has become untenable.

Antonio, the younger brother, left Antioquia for New York as he felt oppressed and silenced by its homophobic society. He is a musician and is married to Jon, an artist. Jon travels the world showcasing his pieces and has no interest in spending time in an out of the way place. Antonio’s nostalgia draws him to visit the farm several times a years on his own. Through Antonio we learn about the family’s ancestry and the many members who became influential leaders in the community.

Eva, the middle sister, is broad-minded and cosmopolitan. She is divorced and has a son living abroad. At times she will visit the farm to enjoy its natural surroundings but firmly believes that the farm is tying them down and should be sold.

Hector Abad introduces the reader to the tragedies that take place in Colombia, a country with extreme terrorist groups. When the narco-traffickers pressure the family to sell the land and the siblings reject the offer, the drug lords attack. Eva happens to be at the farm on her own and flees, before being kidnapped, but the property is set ablaze. Some commentators have said that The Farm is about the ‘decline of a great family’, comparable to Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks. In his novel Hector Abad helps the reader understand how family dynamics can change when faced with violence, due to breakdowns in the rule of law.

If you’d like to learn more about Hector Abad’s work, you may want to look up the film Memories of My Father, by Spanish director Fernando Trueba, which opened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2020. This drama was filmed in Colombia and is based of Abad’s memoir called El Olvido que SeremosOblivion, based on the circumstances that brought about his father’s death.

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