Charco Press Blog Tour: Salt Crystals – Cristina Bendek

“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”

― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Another Spanish translation to add to the list – though so very different from the last.

The island of San Andrés, a little seahorse floating in the Caribbean Sea, is a troubled paradise. Officially part of Colombia, but much closer to the shores of Nicaragua, San Andrés is home to a rich mix of cultures – the native ‘Raizals’, themselves of European and African Descent, mix with Arab traders and Spanish-speaking tourists from the mainland.

The population of the eight-mile strip of land, a modest 20,000 in 1973, has ballooned in the last few decades, bringing drought and unrest. In the high season visitors from the mainland come in droves, and jumbo jets roar overhead as natives blockade the streets protesting a lack of water, but nothing changes for the better.

That’s how we were built: out of historical circumstance, a mysterious process that landed us all in this cooking pot, in this blockade, including the cachaco and the other mixed folks who chat and share the need and the spell of San Andres, who question and refuse.

Salt Crystals is the story of Victoria Baruq, an island native who, having spent many years living abroad in Mexico City, returns home following the breakdown of a relationship. She returns to the whitewashed house of her childhood, now empty, save for the pencil marks that she gouged into the banister as a child, and seeks to find her place in the world.

For Victoria, travelling back to San Andrés is a journey self-discovery. An insulin-dependent diabetic, she recites her upper and lower blood glucose levels like a mantra, seeking sugar hits in cemeteries, mango trees, and bakeries. Life on San Andrés is less certain, more unpredictable, and challenging – her supply of glucose monitors a constant reminder of her vulnerability.

Her appearance, inability to speak Creole, and time spent away from the island mean that most of the locals she meets assume she is from the mainland. She seeks to find out more about her originals, at the local library, ‘thinking rundowns’, and places undiscovered and perhaps unsafe. On a search for answers about her heritage she discovers some dark and uncomfortable truths.

‘Those places are dangerous.’ I was always told. But the whole island is my mother, I tell myself: I came out of the ocean and rose up here on the sand that’s existed for millions of years, through the blood of all my dead.

Salt Crystals is a complex book: think genealogical study meets political commentary in a poetic fever dream. A tale of discovery and understanding of one’s place in the world, shaped, but not dictated, by those that came before.

We belong to the Earth, and that’s what we need to honour: this rain that been everywhere for millions of years, the air we breathe, the ocean that’s the womb of absolutely everything. It’s true. I’ll never know the whole truth about my ancestors, the mind can’t connect the dots; that’s an impulse of the heart.

Translated from the original Spanish by Charco Press, and translator, Robin Myers, Salt Crystals (Los cristales de la sal) was first published in Colombia in 2019. To find out more or to purchase a copy of the book (in English or Spanish) please visit Charco Press online.

I was sent a free copy of Salt Crystals in exchange for an honest review.

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