NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • LONGLISTED FOR THE 2023 ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE IN NONFICTION • A TIME BEST BOOK OF THE SUMMER • From the bestselling author of Fruit of the Drunken Tree, comes a dazzling, kaleidoscopic memoir reclaiming her family's otherworldly legacy.
“Rojas Contreras reacquaints herself with her family’s past, weaving their stories with personal narrative, unraveling legacies of violence, machismo and colonialism… In the process, she has written a spellbinding and genre-defying ancestral history.”—New York Times Book Review
For Ingrid Rojas Contreras, magic runs in the family. Raised amid the political violence of 1980s and '90s Colombia, in a house bustling with her mother’s fortune-telling clients, she was a hard child to surprise. Her maternal grandfather, Nono, was a renowned curandero, a community healer gifted with what the family called “the secrets”: the power to talk to the dead, tell the future, treat the sick, and move the clouds. And as the first woman to inherit “the secrets,” Rojas Contreras’ mother was just as powerful. Mami delighted in her ability to appear in two places at once, and she could cast out even the most persistent spirits with nothing more than a glass of water.
This legacy had always felt like it belonged to her mother and grandfather, until, while living in the U.S. in her twenties, Rojas Contreras suffered a head injury that left her with amnesia. As she regained partial memory, her family was excited to tell her that this had happened before: Decades ago Mami had taken a fall that left her with amnesia, too. And when she recovered, she had gained access to “the secrets.”
In 2012, spurred by a shared dream among Mami and her sisters, and her own powerful urge to relearn her family history in the aftermath of her memory loss, Rojas Contreras joins her mother on a journey to Colombia to disinter Nono’s remains. With Mami as her unpredictable, stubborn, and often amusing guide, Rojas Contreras traces her lineage back to her Indigenous and Spanish roots, uncovering the violent and rigid colonial narrative that would eventually break her mestizo family into two camps: those who believe “the secrets” are a gift, and those who are convinced they are a curse.
Interweaving family stories more enchanting than those in any novel, resurrected Colombian history, and her own deeply personal reckonings with the bounds of reality, Rojas Contreras writes her way through the incomprehensible and into her inheritance. The result is a luminous testament to the power of storytelling as a healing art and an invitation to embrace the extraordinary.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Novelist Ingrid Rojas Contreras bares all in this deeply moving, enriching memoir. Almost a decade after fleeing her hometown of Bogotá, Colombia, Contreras sustains an injury that leaves her with amnesia—just like her mother experienced years earlier. Unlike her mother, however, Contreras’ illness doesn’t give her the ability to see ghosts. Journeying back to Colombia in search of answers about her family’s legacy and lore, Contreras learns amazing truths about her grandfather’s healing powers and reexamines her childhood memories through a new lens. Her book pull us into a mystical, spirit-filled world, bringing to life the stories of a long line of untamed women who came before the author. The Man Who Could Move Clouds is an enchanting listen about the eternal power of family bonds.
Novelist Rojas Contreras (Fruit of the Drunken Tree) returns with a lyrical meditation on her family's history and the legacy of colonialism in Colombia. Though guerrilla and drug warfare forced Rojas Contreras's family to leave Colombia in 1998 when she was 14, the specters of their past remained present. After a bicycle accident in Chicago nine years later rendered Rojas Contreras amnesiac for eight weeks, she slowly recovered her memory with the help of her family. "They say the amnesias were a door to gifts we were supposed to have," Rojas Contreras muses as she offers readers a gift of another kind, recounting in mesmerizing prose family stories of magic and survival, starting with that of her grandfather, Nono, a curandero who could tell the future, heal the sick, and change the weather. While his powers were passed down to his children, Rojas Contreras writes, they were diluted by the inherited traumas of Colombia's brutal colonial history: "We were a damned people, and not by God but by white people." In grappling with the violence embedded in her family's DNA, Rojas Contreras affectingly reveals how darkness can only be vanquished when it's brought to the light. Fusing the personal and political, this rings out as a bold case against forgetting in a forward-facing age.