The Story Behind the Book is Literarily Speaking’s newest feature. Here we find out either the inspiration behind authors’ books or how they got published. Today’s guest is Caroline Alethia, author of of Plant Teacher.
2007 to 2008 were “interesting times” in the South American country of Bolivia. Democratically elected President Evo Morales decided he wanted a firmer grasp on power. In an armed encampment, surrounded by protestors, he illegally amended the national Constitution to extend his term limit. While this assault against democracy was taking place, three protestors outside were shot and killed.
I lived in Bolivia from 2007 to 2008. I read the national newspapers and watched the television coverage of riots and protests and arrests. At night, I saw demonstrators walking through the streets with banners and torches, shouting slogans and setting off firecrackers that sounded like gunshots. During the day, I wound through encampments of hunger strikers in the main city plaza of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. These brave citizens rested in hammocks and sipped nothing but water for days while television reporters meandered through the crowds and ambulances waited on street corners.
And what did I do? Because I was neither a Bolivian citizen nor a member of the press, I slipped into my favorite café and sipped frothy fruit smoothies. I set up my laptop and read the news online, and I watched dozens of other customers enjoy pastries and teas and coffees as if nothing remarkable was going on outside.
In the evenings, I would socialize with other visitors in the sheltered patio of my guest house. Travelers from all over the country considered whether or not there would be a civil war. We drank soft drinks mixed with beer and took evening dips in the pool. We had parties. We played the guitar and sang. We barbecued. In the day, vendors sold their wares at the outdoor markets and office workers found their ways to their jobs.
Bolivia from 2007 to 2008 was a study in just how deeply the human spirit craves normalcy. Revolution and civil war may threaten, but people will still pay their bills and do their laundry and pick up their groceries in the evening. When certain possibilities are too difficult to assimilate, we human beings move ahead as if… as if life is normal.
I wrote Plant Teacher, set it in Bolivia from 2007 to 2008, and filled it with characters who were preoccupied with the daily routines and personal dramas of their lives. While a coup takes place around them, the characters in Plant Teacher fall in and out of love, read books and write poetry, sip cappuccinos and take dips in the pool. For as long as they can pretend their lives are normal, they will do so: So do the characters in Plant Teacher; so do everyday human beings. This paradox alone, I found to be a worthy setting for a novel. I hope my readers agree.
Caroline Alethia is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, on radio and in web outlets. Her words have reached audiences on six continents. She lived in Bolivia and was a witness to many of the events described in Plant Teacher. You can visit her website at www.plantteacherthebook.net.