Monday, July 16, 2007

The Hacienda by Lisa St Aubin de Teran

The Hacienda
Lisa St Aubin de teran
First Published 1997

I chose to read this book for the New Notions Challenge, and since its set in Venezuela, it's also read for the Armchair Travellers Challenge as well.

In the early 1970's When Lisa was 17 she married Jaime from Venezuela who was 20 years older. He told her stories of living in a big house (Casa Grande) on a large sugar plantation (the Hacienda). Lisa was swept away by these romantic stories and agreed to marry him. He took her back to the mountains of Venezuela where he promptly abandoned her and she spent the next 7 years more or less living on the Hacienda by herself.

Jaime would show up now and then, do what husbands do and then take off again. Eventually he sank more and more into schizophenia and mental illness. Lisa was trapped in a bad marriage, where wives are just chattels and she had no rights. She was forced to run the plantation, raise her daughter Iseult, learn Spanish, live with the sometimes illogical customs and supersitions, try and teach the locals new ways of doing things, and generally just survive before she too sank into a deep depression. She had to depend on her mother to send her books, medicines, food,
newspapers and news from England.

In 1977 Venezuela was hit by a drought which devastated the sugar crops. So the hacienda had to change to growing avocados (which, like olives, take several years to mature) and other fruits and vegetables. Venezuela in the 1970's was a very divided country. The government was raking in the petro dollars from Lake Maracaibo, but very little of it was trickling down to the general population. The rich were getting richer and the poor were getting a lot poorer.

As I read this, I was wondering if maybe life might have improved for the locals in
Venezuela over the last 30 years? Probably not.

It was a hard book to read - took me a week. But I was enthralled with watching Lisa
having to learn to deal with life, servants, and a new language on her own. Eventually, for the sake of her sanity, her daughters health and her own health, Lisa had to escape the prison and the squallor and return home to England.

Lisa has been married 3 times and has 3 children - one to each husband. She is currently living in Holland with the 4th partner. Her daughter Iseult (born 1973) had her first child before she was 20, and has also been married several times. Iseult has also written both a novel and a memoir.

You can read more about this family here (2000) and here (2005)

All of Lisa's books are listed here


Carrie K said...

That sounds very intriguing, I'll have to pick it up. What a culture shock for Lisa.

Lotus Reads said...

THis is another book I have had sitting on my bookshelf for months. Was glad to read your review...wonder what it was like for Lisa to live on the Hacienda by herself for 7 long would have driven me crazy for sure. I don't think I have read anything set in Venezuela before so I just might give this book a whirl one of these days.

Loving your blog,thank you for the wonderful reviews!

Tara said...

I read this some years ago - it is a really interesting book and Lisa has had quite a life. What a bizzare siuation she was in at that time, young, frightened and alone. I don't know how I would have coped. I have also read her book set in Italy, about her family fixing up a house which I enjoyed also. Does Iseult write under a different last name? I'd be interested to see what she's written.

Lesley said...

I've never heard of this book before but it sounds interesting. Thanks for the review!