Saturday, August 16, 2008

Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree

Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree
Author: Santa Montefiore
Hodder & Stoughton, 2001
547 pages

I was at the Buenos Aires airport, and I needed a book. There were not many English language books available at the bookstore, so my choices were extremely limited. I could have bought something by Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham, or Nora Roberts. I chose this one because it was written by an Argentine author I had not yet read, and because it was partly set in Argentina.

This is a story about "forbidden" love, and also a story about mothers and daughters, husbands, wives, friends, and lovers, and the insipid things that drive people apart. Mother Anna is an Irishwoman who at a very young age fell in love with a dashing foreigner, Paco. Paco was from a wealthy Argentine family and Anna was a poor but beautiful and strong-willed redhead from a small town in the north of Ireland. Everything she likes about him in terms of being different and exciting, he likes about her. She leaves her family behind in Ireland and moves to Argentina to marry him, and has all kinds of issues fitting in. They have two sons and a daughter, and the daughter, Sofia, is really the main focus of the story.

When the story opens, Sofia is a fiercely competitive fifteen year-old who can't do anything to please her mother. Anna dotes on her sons, and this drives Sofia away. Sofia feels "different" in so many of the same ways that Anna felt when she was younger. They are so much alike, you'd think they'd be best friends. But, as is usually the case in life, they rather dislike each other.

When Sofia falls in love with someone she shouldn't, the story takes a turn, and we see additional parallels between the lives of Anna and Sofia. What we end up with is a novel that probably best fits in the Romance category, but also has an interesting (but predictable) plot which is interwoven with 20th century Argentina history, e.g., Juan and Eva (Evita) Peron, the war between England and Argentina over the Falkland Islands/Malvinas, and the economic crises in Argentina. I found the historical and cultural parts to be very interesting and for those elements alone, I would recommend the book to anyone interested in Argentina or South America. Romance readers, or readers who view reading as a means of escape, will enjoy it for the storyline (which I found yukky.)

Meet Me Under the Ombu Tree in many ways is to Argentina what The Thorn Birds is to Australia. So if you liked the latter, you would probably enjoy this book very much.

Rating: 3 stars.