One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie
ABOUT THE BOOK
After fleeing crumbling, volatile Venezuela, Yola Palacio wants nothing more than to settle into a peaceful new life in Trinidad with her family. And who cares if they’re there illegally—aren’t most of the people on the island? But life for the Palacios is far from quiet—and when Yola’s Aunt Celia dies, the family once again find their lives turned upside down. For Celia had been keeping a very big secret—she owed a LOT of money to a local criminal called Ugly. And without the funds to pay him off, Ugly has the entire family do his bidding until Celia’s debt is settled. What Ugly says, the Palacios do, otherwise the circumstances are too dreadful to imagine.
To say that the year that follows is tumultuous for the Palacios is an understatement. But in the midst of the turmoil appears Roman—Ugly’s distractingly gorgeous right-hand man. And although she knows it’s terrible and quite possibly dangerous, Yola just can’t help but give in to the attraction. Where, though, do Roman’s loyalties lie? And could this wildly inappropriate romance just be the antidote to a terrible year of Ugly?
I was interested in this story because of the immigrant perspective in Trinidad. When a family is faced with an enormous debt left by “the family bitch”, the dangerous payoff wreaks havoc in all sorts of bizarre ways.
Yola is a writer and translator who lives in Trinidad with her father, mother, and younger sister. When a gun-toting man named Ugly shows up at their barbeque demanding payment that the deceased Aunt Celia owed him, the Palacio family get to work off the debt by proxy or else, meaning they get to host illegal immigrants from Venezuela for free in their home for an undetermined amount of time. What Yola doesn’t see coming is the very attractive Román, Ugly’s right-hand man, and “Surveillance Expert”. A job he takes seriously when it comes to Yola. However, when Aunt Milagros goes crazy and accidentally shoots a guest with a pellet gun bringing unwanted attention to Ugly, she is saved by Román, unbeknownst to his employer. In the meantime, the family is forced to pay again by working at a high-end strip club and surprising secrets are soon revealed.
I love Yola’s dedication to her Aunt Celia’s memory. Aunt Celia sounded like a bold, take-life-by-the-horns kind of woman who lived life to the fullest. The funny antics she pulls on her cheating husband are hilarious. Yola seemed like the sensible one in the family (contrary to her schlepping an enforcer-type criminal) who keeps to herself and seems a bit lost without her Aunt Celia to talk to. Román’s personality is a bit contradictory for his line of work which may have to do with his attraction to Lola. In fact, he turns out to be a good guy who helps Yola and her family more than once. Aunt Milagros, the religious spinster, is another one I liked especially when she started chainsmoking and walking around like Rambo with a pellet gun. There were several LOL moments considering the seriousness of the subject matter.
Overall, this was an engaging and informative story that touched on a lot of subjects including illegal immigration, prejudice, grief, and self-identity. If you enjoy contemporary fiction filled with serious issues, dark humor, and quirky characters, give this book a try.
Thank you to Ms. Mackenzie for giving me the opportunity to read this book with no expectation of a positive review.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caroline Mackenzie is a freelance translator living in Trinidad with her husband and son. A national scholar, she studied in the UK on an Open Scholarship for four years to qualify as a specialist translator before returning to her native Trinidad, where she began writing more extensively. Her short fiction has appeared in literary publications around the world, and in 2017 she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. In 2018 she was named the Short Fiction winner of the Small Axe Literary Competition. One Year of Ugly is her first novel, and the TV rights have already been snapped up by Netflix.
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