In her 2017 debut novel, The Lucky Ones, Colombian-born author Julianne Pachico ruminated on her home country throughout 30 years of civil war, when rebels and cartels rendered the country lawless. In her second novel, she updates her gaze to present-day Medellín. The Anthill is riskier and more ambitious than The Lucky Ones, but every bit as absorbing.
Lina is a 30-something doctoral student from Britain, daughter of a Colombian mother and English father. She has returned to Colombia after a long absence to volunteer at a day care center run by her childhood friend, Mattías. From the opening page, a sense of foreboding troubles Lina. Who is the stranger who greets her? What kind of a day care facility would be called the Anthill? Who are the other volunteers? Where do the children come from?
The answers unfold in due time, the tension steadily rising like the cable cars that whoosh uphill to connect downtown Medellín with poorer, higher neighborhoods. Medellín is itself a vivid character in the book, a metropolitan tourist destination of swinging nightclubs and placid poverty, a city that has turned Pablo Escobar’s private zoo into a theme park. As Lina struggles to distinguish herself beyond the designation of “the new volunteer,” she wrestles with the violent politics of the country she knew as a child and the threats within this new, almost peaceful iteration of the country.
Lina learns some of the truths of Colombia that Medellín tourist brochures never divulge. Mattías, leftist and anti-clerical, seems devoted to his work yet keeps his distance from Lina, in whose house he was raised. His attitudes suddenly shift midway; there are intimations of a feral child locked away behind Anthill doors.
Vivid and at times surreal, this assured novel cements Pachico’s reputation as a gifted writer to watch.