Book Reviews

The Mango Orchard: The extraordinary true story of a family lost and found by Robin Bayley

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List Price: £8.99

 

Paperback: 336 Pages.

Published: 07 April 2011 by Arrow

Edition: Reprint

ISBN: 1848092245

EAN: 9781848092242

As a child, Robin Bayley was enchanted by his grandmother's stories of Mexican adventures: of bandits, wild jungle journeys, hidden bags of silver and a narrow escape from the bloody Mexican Revolution. But Robin sensed there was more to these stories than anyone knew, and so he set out to follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather.

The Mango Orchard is the story of parallel journeys, a hundred years apart, into the heart of Latin America. Undaunted by the passage of time and a paucity of information, Robin seeks out the places where his great-grandfather Arthur 'Arturo' Greenhalgh travelled and lived, determined to uncover his legacy. Along the road Robin encounters witches, drug dealers, a gun-toting Tasmanian Devil and an ex-Nazi diamond trader. He is threatened with deportation, offered the protection of Colombian guerrilla fighters and is comforted by the blessings of los santos. He falls in love with a beautiful Guatemalan girl with mystical powers and almost gives up his quest, until a sense of destiny drives him on to western Mexico and the discovery of much, much more than he had bargained for.

Reviews

3.0 Stars3.0 Stars3.0 Stars  by Anne

Not really enough here to engage

This book is a cross between an investigative family history and travel book. The author is attempting to investigate the history of his great-grandfather who had lived in Mexico at the end of the 19th century running a cotton mill. To do this he travels to Mexico to try to find out what his great-grandfather did there and what, if anything, remains of his life and the mill. The book describes his journey across South America, the people he meets and then what he discovers when he eventually reaches Mexico.

The actual story here is very slight. What the author discovers is not particularly unusual and nor should it have come as a complete surprise to him. I also think he could have discovered much of this without actually making the trip to Mexico or without it becoming such a major event as it does in this book. On the other hand what he does discover is delightful and how he handles it and how his family adjust to the revelation is also interesting.

The author doesn’t arrive in Mexico until quite a considerable way through the book. First he travels to South America in order to learn Spanish before he starts his investigation. A lot of the story involves his travelling in South America, the people he meets and the places he sees. All of this is quite interesting but it is not gripping or compelling and the book only really comes alive when he reaches Mexico. Had, however, the Mexico part of the book been the sole story it would have been a considerably shorter narrative. The author includes quite a lot of anecdotes and stories about the people he meets along the way. Some of these seem rather contrived. He does seem to launch himself into the adventure without proper preparation, without research and without the resources to get himself out of messes without the involvement of other people. I wonder whether this book is actually a collection of stories involving more than one trip to South America.

Had the book solely been about the Mexican experience it would have, for me, actually been more interesting because I very much enjoy family history. I would have liked to know more about the history of the people who settled in Mexico and what they did there and how they connected with local people and local industry. This book is not, however, a book of social history however much I would have preferred it to be but is a personal memoir of one particular man, his life there and his family.

This is an easy enough read but I didn’t think that it was substantial enough to engage me in a way that I would have liked. It is neither a good travel book nor a good family/social history. It is, however, a very personal book – and the author includes a lot about how he feels about what is going on and what is compelled him to make this investigation. It would have been more interesting had there been greater revelations about dire and dreadful things that had happened in the past but obviously you cannot expect the author to invent those just for the sake of this book. I do think, however, that there is not really enough in his story, even when padded out with travel stories, for this to be anything more than an ephemeral read.

 
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