This was a book where the narrator expressly stated that he wanted to tell the story of the last moments of Adela Rugama’s life. For some reason I had it in my head that this was going to be a murder mystery and was a bit surprised when I found out it wasn’t. So within the first couple of chapters the reader knows Adela Rugama is dead, knows who did it, and also has a vague idea of the reason behind her murder. Even though there was no mystery to figure out, the book kept my attention. I was impressed with the way a seemingly simple story about a woman who was murdered kept me reading longer than I intended.
Meet Me under the Ceiba is based on the real life murder of Aura Rosa Pavon, a lesbian living in the homophobic nation of Nicaragua. The story is told by a fictional professor who is spending his summer teaching in a nearby university. He had known Adela’s family from a previous visit and was shocked to learn of her murder, and that those responsible only spent three years in prison. The narrator takes the reader along on his journey to find the motivation behind the murder. In the process of learning about Adela’s life, the professor learns about her relationship with Ixelia Cruz. Ixelia had been the mistress of a wealthy landowner who was one of Adela’s killers. The town widely believed that he killed Adela because he couldn’t stand the humiliation of his mistress being lured away from him by a lesbian. All of the narrator’s investigations lead to his piecing together the last moments of Adela Rugama’s life as best he can.
Silvio Sirias did a wonderful job in recreating the small town of La Curva. The descriptions of the people of the town, the houses in which they lived, and their way of life in general showed that these people were poor. Sirias described the house that Adela lived in, saying:
Her dwelling had three rooms: a living room, a bedroom, and a spare room that she used for storage. The kitchen, which was outdoors in the backyard, consisted of a sink she used for washing both the dishes and the laundry. Close to the stove she kept an unpainted wood table, on which she prepared the food and ate afterward. As with the other houses in the neighborhood, the outhouse was in the backyard, in the corner farthest away from the stove and the house.
Yet no one ever seemed to let their financial situation bother them. It was just the way they lived and had always lived. He described how Adela had worked hard in order to help pay for her nieces and nephews to attend high school. Adela herself was not well educated in the sense of a school education. Sirias sums this part up with a simple sentence, “At a young age, then, Adela learned everything she needed to know to earn a living, except how to read and write.”
It seems almost obvious that this story could not have a typical happy ending. Adela is dead and her killers spent minimal time in jail for the crime. For a time the people of Nicaragua put aside their normal prejudice against homosexuals to stand together during the trial of Adela’s murders. Perhaps that trial helped to ease tensions in the country between homosexuals and heterosexuals. It certainly seemed to be heading in that direction. I think that is the one bright spot in such a tragic story. But for those who were close to Adela, as well as her killers, “Adela’s murder drastically marked the remainder of their days.”