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by John Manuel Arias

WHERE THERE WAS FIRE by John Manuel Arias

In John Manuel Arias’s lush and lyrical debut, a Costa Rican family wrestles with the aftermath of neocolonialism, a deadly secret, and an all-consuming fire

Costa Rica, 1968. When a lethal fire erupts at the American Fruit Company’s most lucrative banana plantation burning all evidence of a massive cover-up, the future of Teresa Cepeda Valverde’s family is changed forever.

Now, twenty-seven years later, Teresa and her daughter Lyra are still picking up the pieces. Lyra wants nothing to do with Teresa, but is desperate to find out what happened to her family that fateful night. Teresa, haunted by a missing husband and the bitter ghost of her mother, Amarga, is unable to reconcile the past. What unfolds is a story of a mother and daughter trying to forgive what they do not yet understand, and the mystery at the heart of one family’s rupture, steeped in machismo, jealousy, labor uprisings, and the havoc wreaked by banana plantations in Central America.

Brimming with ancestral spirits, omens, and the anthropomorphic forces of nature, John Manuel Arias weaves a brilliant tapestry of love, loss, secrets, and redemption. Set in Costa Rica between 1968 and the mid-1990s, Where There Was Fire paints a vivid portrait of the ways in which agribusiness and international exploitation are intertwined with one family’s fate.

John Manuel Arias is a Costa Rican-American poet and writer. He was a CantoMundo Poetry Fellow and a participant of the Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop. His prose and poetry have been published in PANK, The Rumpus, F(r)iction, Joyland Magazine, Akashic Books and more. We are excited to publish his first novel-length work.

This novel explores weighty topics, including intergenerational familial trauma and environmental injustices; and it does so in a page-turning, multi-generational epic. With the combination of big themes, beautiful prose, and family secrets this is the kind of novel that will appeal to book clubs and reading groups. John Manuel Arias is a first-generation Costa-Rican and Uruguayan writer and this novel is based on his own family’s history.