When violence and homophobia came for Juleón “Jude” Tholet at the age of 17, he learned about “physical grammar.”
“I broke my leg made one sound. My leg was broken made entirely another.
If you broke a bone, it became an experience.
If your bone was broken, it became your identity.”
This experience gave him an even stronger, yet unfortunate, bond with his father, Cleon. Experiences born out of trauma and tragedy. When their community turned on them, the family was forced to flee their home in Canada and start over in the US. Jude’s parents, Cleon and Penny, had fled once before, having barely survived Chile during Pinochet’s military coup.
The family does rebuild their lives in Seattle, and Jude becomes a professional pianist. But his scars run deep and Jude’s personal relationships leave him lonely and unfulfilled. His family remains a source of comfort to him though, and in a lighter moment with his family, they all take DNA tests and DNA doesn’t lie. It is discovered that Jude is not the child of Penny and Cleon and the family once again has to survive the unthinkable. It will take the family back through memories better left forgotten, and unspeakable acts of violence and trauma, to piece together a history they once thought they knew.
A Scarcity of Condors is a work of historical fiction where the events of life in Chile in the 1970s is explored and then crossed with the present. Suanne Laqueur’s writing is at times magical, at times evocative, and at times heart wrenching as she illustrates the horrors one human can inflict on another. But all of this makes for a captivating read. The framework of the story is built upon what Cleon and Penny endured in Chile and we get several clear points of view that lyrically, yet vividly, demonstrate what they had to survive. All of the way through, the author chooses the perfect combination of words and phrases to elevate what on the surface looks to be a simple sentence into something much more.
This was easily my most anticipated book of the year and when I learned the story would focus on Jude and who his life was intertwined with, I knew the book would be a difficult, but ultimately rewarding one. The events align tightly with Alex’s story from the earlier books in the Venery series, and while it is not a full continuation of the entire series, reading the books in order allows for the most impact to an incredibly detailed story.
The book takes us through Jude’s relationship with his first boyfriend and the impact it had on his life and the long shadow it continues to cast over the lives of the family decades later. The story is well layered in a remarkable manner as the foundation of the lives of Jude’s family is explored and then intersected and overlapped with the present.
As Jude struggles to make sense of who he is and where he fits in to any story, he meets Tej, who fits him in ways he only experienced once as a teen and never thought he would find again. Their love grows as Jude is struggling to figure out where he fits into two families while Tej struggles with not having even one family to belong to anymore.
The book went a little heavier on the life of Penny and Cleon than I was expecting. While it works to fully bring the reality of where Jude came from to light, I might have liked a little more time with Jude and Tej and then with Jude and Alex, as well. The author effortlessly demonstrates how parts of history can repeat itself in specific moments in time, as some of the most impactful aspects of all of the characters’ lives are seen again in another time and another place. The book also makes reference to extreme torture and violence suffered by some of the characters and the author’s storytelling, while subtle at times, is remarkably impactful.
The Venery series is a remarkable piece of writing. Some of these characters have become my absolute favorites and although they are but ink and imagination, they have become as real as any person and I find myself thinking about their lives at times. The title, once again, links the story and the series together, and A Scarcity of Condors is a rich and well-layered story of true love and hope risen from the ashes of horror and suffering.