In Susan M. Gaines’s intricate and informative novel Accidentals, a twenty-three-year-old, Gabriel, takes an unexpected voyage with his mother, Lili, back to her native Uruguay. To do this, Gabriel quits his well-paying yet uninspiring job in California. Lili calls their trip the “perfect antidote” for Gabriel’s “end-of-millennium, post-adolescent angst.”
Lili leaves her own job to return to her family’s estancia, which sits a few hours from Montevideo. She hopes to reconnect with her country and heritage and to start an organic farm. At first, Gabriel feels like he is on an obligatory South American vacation, but his interest in bird watching lures him out for walks along the estancia’s fields and marshes. Soon, he’s sketching and taking notes about his fascinating avian discoveries.
The story relates both a family history and the history of Uruguay itself, including the country’s chaotic colonial past and more recent political and economic developments. The local terrain and various animal species are featured with colorful, evocative details. The quirks, flaws, squabbles, and charm of Lili’s mother and brothers are depicted with warmth and depth.
Gabriel narrates, his perspective that of both an insider and a visitor. He shows a growing affinity for Uruguay’s culture and a detached appreciation for its natural glory. His romance with Alejandra, a biologist, leads to some maturation, as does his increasing closeness to his mother. He discovers traumatic secrets from her past and begins to share her zealous plans for the future.
Populated by flocks of wild parakeets, comical, ostrich-like ñandús, verdant rice fields, mate sipped from gourds, and squares of chard and egg pie, Accidentals is a rich portrait of a country and its people, relayed with detail and wonder, thanks to a naturalist’s eye.
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