Plant Teacher (Bolivia)

Plant Teacher book coverby Caroline Alethia

Ever had the feeling that you’ve done something horribly wrong? Irrevocably wrong? Made a mistake you can never recover from?

Spoiled trust fund baby Martin Banzer is writing tortured (and tortuous) poetry in a Mr. Café in La Paz. After graduating from Brown, this distant American relation of Bolivia’s dictator is trying to figure out what to do with his life.

Maybe going into the jungle with some dude and letting a medicine man blow smoke up his nose is the answer. Hundreds of hallucinations and panic attacks later, that seems to have been a bad decision.

Martin’s wealthy, bossy sister flies to Bolivia with the intent of finding out what, exactly, he put up his nose. Meanwhile there’s a pretty girl working for justice on a continent of oligarchies.

Bolivia Excerpt:

“Cheryl could hardly fathom the contrast between these huge, gated mansions and the humble abodes of cement, crammed full with sweaty bodies, which she had seen in other neighborhoods in the city. Many city houses, Gus had told her, didn’t have flush toilets. Some didn’t have running water. The gap between wealth and poverty was worse than in Washington, D.C.”

Consequences

I really dug this book. The cover and the formatting make it look self-published; like those copies I used to get on a pay-for-review website. However, it’s well-written. You can tell the author has lived in Bolivia herself. I like how the characters start out with assumptions, and then those ideas are turned upside down.

For example, Martin’s native guide is not some dude. Despite the American attitude toward “drugs”, indigenous people have been practicing homeopathy for thousands of years. So the Bolivian (I forget his name) turns out to be a highly-educated expert on natural healing. Which makes Martin and his bossy sister wonder if maybe something else is causing the hallucinations – like schizophrenia.

Bolivia CityAnd Martin’s hallucinations are fun. Waiters’ heads bloom like flowers. Cheesecakes sprout wings. Pillars open up their bulbous lips and say things like “If it hadn’t been for the saltenyas…” (Meat pastries). And of course, pretty girls grow enormous noses. Mmm, and there are jaguars.

The only part of the book I did not like – although interesting – was the prologue. Where the LSD syringe travels to Bolivia. I have a “thing” about clean water. Ugh.

Extremely Slight Carpings
I wished that more had been done about the connection between Martin’s family and the dictator, and I remember thinking that Cheryl’s Austrian roots didn’t quite ring true. I speak German, so I noticed that the wrong word was used for Christmas.

Five Saltenyas

Nonetheless, this was a great read. I found out after I was done that it’s won prizes!

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