Thursday, March 21, 2024

Books: "The Waves Take You Home" By Maria Alejandra Barrios Velez


The Waves Take You Home

By Maria Alejandra Barrios Velez

Lake Union; hardcover, 319 pages $28.99; paperback, 319 pages, $16.99; Kindle eBook, $3.99; Audiobook - Brilliance Audio, 10 hours, $19.99

Maria Alejandra Barrios Velez is a writer who was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, and currently lives in Brooklyn and their scruffy dog, Gus. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of Manchester, and she was the 2020 SmokeLong Flash Fiction Fellow. Her stories have been published in Shenandoah Literary, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante, Fractured Lit, SmokeLong Quarterly, and The Offing. Her website is

The Waves Take You Home is Velez's debut novel, and it is inspired by the resilience and strength of the women in her family and Barranquilla, Colombia, the Caribbean city she has spent most of her life. There are unforgettable characters in a bustling setting, and mouthwatering descriptions of local delicacies to bring you into their world.

It is a story about the unbreakable bonds of three generations of women, the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, and the circumstances that call us home. 

Violeta Sanoguera is a twenty-eight-year-old who immigrated to the United States ten years prior, and she goes home to Barranquilla when her grandmother passes away. Violeta's grandmother set her on the path she took, as she insisted she leave in the first place, to escape a love she didn't approve, to avoid making the same mistakes she did, and to pursue a better life, setting in Brooklyn.

In addition to grieving her grandmother's death, she is informed that she has inherited Caminito, their family restaurant that has hit hard times. Violeta is resolved to honor her grandmother's final wishes and stay, at least long enough to save the restaurant. 

Violeta, accompanied by the ghost of her grandmother who reminds her of the choices she's made and what lies ahead, embarks on a journey of rediscovery, of her home, her mother and grandmother, and the flame of an old love. 

These are sensations she hasn't experienced in years, and she uncovers deeply kept family secrets written in the pages of her grandmother's journal. This leads her to begin to question everything.

It illustrates how ancestors shape our lives, food serves as a memory, and you can face the past in order to build a life that's truly your own. This deep novel will dare its readers to choose boldly, while also making you want to dive into a slice of pineapple rum-upside down cake or a plate of paella.

In this excerpt, Velez writes about Violeta as she is about to leave Barranquilla, Colombia: "Caminito was the start and the ending of this story. Since I was young, Abuela told me that my place was not in the kitchen, everywhere but in the kitchen. She feared for me the all-consuming flame that she said was life as a restaurant owner. Abuela imagined my hands with rough calluses, my mind busy with interminable thoughts of dishes and having to cook day in and day out. She feared the idea of me merging with the strong, solid walls that encompassed her prison, a life subdued to family obligation.

But like all things forbidden, that only drew me more.

The night that changed it all, Caminito's floor was vibrating from all the foot traffic - waiters were busy with trays carrying Abuela's Colombian Spanish specialties: paella, tortilla Espanola, and sizzling steaks. Barranquilleros were dressed elegantly with long, flowy dresses and crisp, freshly ironed shirts. An echo of delight and laughter reverberated throughout the room. I wans't supposed to be there; Abuela had already kicked me out once when she caught me in the kitchen with Anton, trying to help him cut some vegetables for a broth.

'Te vas a quemar! Anton, no te dije that she shouldn't be in the kitchen?'

Anton had shrugged, 'Dona, yo...'

'Nada, no exceptions.'

Anton had looked at me with those puppy eyes that meant he felt guilty. Anton was Abuela's protege, and keeper of her culinary knowledge and the family recipes that we serve at the restaurant.

But not being able to have a place in the restaurant only made me want it more. I was in love with the broths, sauces, and spices in the kitchen. The frantic rhythm of the dance that was working together on a busy night. I was in love with the sense of possibility, of everything that you could make with simple, good ingredients.

Whenever she would kick me out, I would always say, 'Si, Abuela.' And then return in a moment when she was busy greeting customers. I had inherited more than her love for cooking and food - I had also inherited her stubbornness. Mama had too.

After having been kicked out once that night already, I wasn't returning to the kitchen to cook but to tell Mama I was going out with Rafa. Mama didn't like him, either, but she was easier than Abuela because she was often distracted by whatever guy she was seeing.

I entered the restaurant and tried to go straight to the kitchen. Abuela was there, wearing her jet-black hair pinned up and a black skirt suit with buttons that looked like shells. She was smiling at two customers, an old couple who came to the restaurant every Friday to always have the same thing: paella to share and a bottle of rioja.

'I swear, Dona Emilia, this paella is better every time I try it,' Don Victor said, looking at his wife, Ruth, who had her face buried in her plate.

'Mm-hmm.' Ruth nodded. 'The best one in the city.'

Abuela smiled with recognition. 'Claro! We just won best paella in the city for the third time in a row -' Abuela's eyes darted to me as I crossed the sea of waiters and people who were dining at the restaurant. My heart was beating fast, and I was walking as briskly as I could, but I knew I couldn't escape her hawklike gaze. 'Excuse me, one second please,' she said, and I glanced briefly as Don Victor and his wife, who were looking at each other with the knowing smiles that only those in an old but pleasant marriage can share.

'Violeta! A donde Vas?'

Abuela asked where I was going, following me as I closed the kitchen door. Mama was there, talking on the phone and smoking a cigarette. Abuela was about to eat her alive; she had just arrived. Mama wasn't one to linger in the restaurant; she always had plans. It had been that way since I was a kid - Abuela took care of the restaurant and of me. If Mami was a feather, Abuela was a block of cement: heavy and rooted to the ground with nowhere to go. 

'What's going on here?' Abuela said, looking at Mama hiding in a corner. Mama didn't know whether to drop the cell phone or the cigarette first.

Abuela released a breath that could have unleashed a cyclone. 'Paula, throw that away! You're going to burn down this place!' 

Mama did as told and stubbed out the cigarette with her shoe. Abuela closed her eyes and muttered something under her breath, turning her back to her daughter. 'What's going on, Vi?'

At my eighteen years of age, I knew better than to say anything."

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