cover image The Anthill

The Anthill

Julianne Pachico. Doubleday, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-54589-1

At the start of Pachico’s uneven sophomore effort (after The Lucky Ones), 28-year-old half-Colombian and half-British Maria “Lina” Carolina returns to her birthplace of Medellín, Colombia, for the first time in 20 years. Anxious and aimless, she has left behind a foundering academic career in England to volunteer at The Anthill, a school founded by Mattías (“Matty”), whom Lina’s mother had raised with Lina in Colombia. After a disarming initial reunion with Matty, who is scarred and embittered by his experiences in the city when it was more dangerous (“You won’t be able to recognise who was once a guerilla or who was once a paramilitary,” he tells her), Lina makes friends with the school’s other volunteers and grows close to the children. However, as Matty tells the other volunteers a different version of his childhood story from the one Lina remembers, Lina is disturbed by the children’s sightings of a strange, dirty boy who vanishes whenever Lina turns to look at him. While plot inconsistencies, underdeveloped characters, and awkward second-person narration lessen the narrative’s emotional impact, Pachico navigates issues of class, war, and violence with intelligence and grace. This lopsided tale falls somewhere between literary fiction and commercial mystery without quite finding its footing. (May)